Ban e-cigarettes, Hong Kong medical experts say after ‘shocking’ 55 per cent rise in primary schoolchildren trying vaping

Health groups renew call to outlaw the products after surveys show increase in number of Primary Two to Four pupils trying the devices

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 7:34am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 8:09am

Four Hong Kong medical groups have banded together to step up calls for a total ban on e-cigarettes following a 55 per cent rise in the proportion of Primary Two to Four pupils trying the products.

The Council on Smoking and Health, Federation of Medical Societies, Medical Association and Dental Association on Thursday also cautioned that e-cigarettes could help youngsters abuse other drugs.

Their warning comes ahead of debate on proposed regulations in the city’s legislature, which is set to reconvene next month.

Daniel Ho Sai-yin, a member of the Council on Smoking and Health, said local surveys done by the organisation had found the proportion of Primary Two to Four pupils who had tried e-cigarettes increased between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, from 2.9 per cent to 4.5.

The surveys interviewed 2,076 pupils from 16 primary schools in 2016-17, and 4,599 pupils from 26 schools in the following year.

“The increase was 55 per cent, which was rather shocking,” Ho said.

The government announced in June a proposal to regulate e-cigarettes and other new tobacco alternatives in the same way as conventional ones. But the plan was met with criticism from anti-smoking bodies, who argued for an outright ban.

Five fast facts about Hong Kong’s burning debate over e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn devices and other alternative tobacco products

Globally medical experts are divided on whether vaping and other tobacco alternatives are less harmful than cigarettes.

But in a statement released on Thursday, the four medical groups said: “We are extremely worried that legislating for a mere restriction on the sale of electronic cigarettes to adults is no different from allowing teen vaping to bubble into an epidemic of colossal scale.”

Recent overseas examples had further prompted their worries, they said. Earlier this month the United States Food and Drug Administration said it was considering a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes amid what it called an “epidemic” of use among young people.

Dr Ludwig Tsoi Chun-hing, honorary secretary for the Federation of Medical Societies, warned that e-cigarettes could be used as a tool to abuse other drugs.

We did not bow to e-cigarette makers in rejecting full ban, Hong Kong health chief Sophia Chan says

Tsoi cited a case from 2016 in which a 24-year-old man was sent to a hospital emergency department for resuscitation after ingesting two drops of e-cigarette fluid.

The fluid, intended for vaping with an electronic device, was later found to contain synthetic cannabinoids, substances similar to chemicals found in the marijuana plant.

“E-cigarettes could be tools for youngsters to take so-called ‘soft drugs’,” Tsoi said.

Dr Haston Liu Wai-ming, from the Dental Association, said e-cigarettes could also bring dental problems.

A spokeswoman for tobacco giant Philip Morris Asia said regulation was indeed crucial, but it must be based on substantiated facts and evidence to allow the public access to accurate and unbiased information.

“We have been and will continue to share our science with all stakeholders, including legislators and the medical community in Hong Kong, in an open and transparent manner, and we will encourage them to verify our findings,” she said.

Christine Hu, chairwoman of the Coalition on Tobacco Affairs, which represents tobacco businesses, said the group would support legislation to prevent e-cigarettes and other alternatives being sold to children.

Officials could also regulate and limit the ingredients used in these products, she added.

But Hu said a total ban “would not truly help consumers”.