E-cigarettes are also hazardous to health
The government is right to impose restrictions on what is also known as vaping, as Hong Kong continues to move towards becoming a smoke-free society
Doctors and medical authorities are united against cigarette smoking. That is not the case with electronic cigarettes, or vaping.
Some countries, including Singapore and Australia, ban them. The local medical profession thinks Hong Kong should do the same.
The World Health Organisation urges restrictions on their sale and use. But Public Health England, a government agency, has published a review of evidence that says vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and the benefits of switching to e-cigarettes include helping to quit smoking.
The British Medical Association says there are potential benefits in reducing the harms linked to smoking.
On the other hand, an analysis of hundreds of studies by the American National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that while e-cigarettes are safer and may help adults quit smoking they may also entice young people to start, and the public health consequences are unknown.
A recent census report showed that the number of smokers in Hong Kong had dropped to the lowest-ever rate of 10 per cent.
But the use of electronic smoking devices among this group is rising. It is therefore good that the government has formulated a coherent regulatory response to e-cigarettes and other alternatives, although it does not make everyone happy.
Under proposals set to be debated in the Legislative Council, they would be regulated in the same way as conventional smoking products. Sale to minors would be banned and packaging would require explicit health warnings.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee shares the concern that e-cigarettes will become a smoking gateway for young people.
In Hong Kong, vaping products are easily found. The city has had a ban on smoking in public indoor spaces since 2009.
The government paper says, rightly, that the city needs a regime to prevent youths and non-smokers from getting hooked. Activists maintain that the new regulations should ban e-cigarettes altogether.
Given the government’s clear stance against smoking and progress in public education towards a smoke-free society, it needs to monitor the proposed new regime among young people in particular and be prepared to further tighten it.