Hong Kong policy on heated tobacco products is baffling. Can we learn from Japan?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 November, 2017, 9:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 10:45am

I am writing as someone who tried to quit smoking and as a concerned Hong Kong citizen, regarding our government’s attitude towards alternative tobacco products.

I used to be a regular smoker, and have tried to switch to heated tobacco products for almost a year. Like many of my friends, I first came across this alternative last year when in Japan. I did not have any intention to quit smoking when I switched. But surprisingly, after using the new product for a few months, I was able to cut back on cigarette use.

So I find it baffling that the government would penalise people who opt for the alternative.

On the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) website, it specifically mentions that heat-not-burn products are considered as tobacco products, and subject to the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance. Using these products in statutory no-smoking areas is prohibited.

Also, ironically, while you can buy conventional cigarettes from convenience stores, you can only buy the heat-not-burn products from parallel importers.

I am sure I speak for many users. None of us wants to switch back to traditional cigarettes after realising the [health] benefits of heat-not-burn products.

Even to non-smokers who might not care about the issue, legitimising the use of these products and their importation will help users and the government, as it can collect taxes which will bring it additional revenue.

Its present approach to these heat-not-burn tobacco products is in contrast to the policies of the Japanese government, and I do not believe this is beneficial from a public health viewpoint.

It seems that the administration has an agenda, that is, to offer smokers no alternatives [such as heated products] and eventually create a smoke-free city.

People like me are smokers looking for ways to cope with our addiction, but we are also consumers who deserve the same rights as other consumers.

Each of us has the right to choose what methods we adopt to mitigate the harm done by smoking while being protected by consumer laws.

It’s sad to see our government trying to limit our choices, which will drive many people back to smoking traditional cigarettes, which is arguably a much more harmful option.

Tony Chan, Sheung Wan