Nice job banning e-cigarettes, Carrie. Now for a total ban on all tobacco to show true grit
Yonden Lhatoo applauds the chief executive’s bold move to outlaw e-cigarettes and new smoking products, but urges her to show real courage by taking on the bigger guns and slapping a wider ban on traditional tobacco
I must say I’m growing exponentially resentful about having to run the gauntlet of smokers and “vapers” congregating around Times Square every time I head towards my office.
They’re a cumulative health hazard and a public nuisance in one of Hong Kong’s showpiece tourist and business centres, discarding cigarette butts everywhere and polluting the air with toxic fumes that the rest of us end up breathing.
With all due respect to their supreme individual right to poison their own lungs and risk cancer or heart disease, I draw the line at having second-hand smoke blown directly into my face in the process. On such occasions I have to resist the urge to yank their electronic or analogue cigarettes out of their faces to demonstrate my displeasure.
So it was a much-needed breath of fresh air to see Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announce in her policy address this week a total ban on e-cigarettes and other newfangled smoking products. It was a bold U-turn that took everyone by surprise because, until now, the government had been willing only to restrict the sale of vape pens, smoking oils, atomisers and what-have-yous to minors – like regular tobacco products.
Outlawing the advertisement, manufacture, import, sale and distribution of e-cigarettes and “heat-not-burn” smoking products sends the right message that this city is serious about protecting the health of its citizens.
Some within Lam’s own administration were shocked by her radical decision. The previous health minister, Ko Wing-man, was a gentle soul who would not rock the boat after government studies suggested it would be complicated and technically difficult to impose such a ban. After all, they would be putting a blossoming new smoking industry out of business in the bargain.
Well, business be damned. Surely there are other ways to make money than merchandising devices of debilitation and death. Spare me the lame counter-arguments that e-cigarettes are less harmful, or they actually help cut down on smoking. Just kick the habit, already. Ever hear of simple willpower?
How heartening it is to finally see a flash of gutsy leadership, with our chief executive willing to step on toes for the greater good in this regard at least. It’s something this city sorely needs. Next, how about showing true grit by taking on the bigger guns and banning tobacco altogether?
Or is a smoke-free Hong Kong just a pipe dream? Let’s face it, the government’s efforts so far to fight tobacco and reduce public exposure to it have been largely impotent and uninspired, to say the least.
The official ban on smoking indoors or in most public places is a joke – bars and restaurants break the law with impunity, and the Tobacco Control Office can’t keep up with enforcement, whether it’s due to incompetence or insufficient resources.
We now know that smoking a single cigarette a day carries the same risk as sucking on 10 when it comes to heart disease and strokes. Stop and think about it – the amount of second-hand smoke we non-smokers breathe in every day means we’re inhaling the equivalent of that single cigarette anyway. Hello, heart attack.
Hardcore smokers whose nicotine dependency may be classified as a medical condition could well suffer if Hong Kong were to ban tobacco, but there are always options for addicts if it’s that serious – like methadone clinics for heroin and opioid abusers.
And while we’re on the subject of smoke, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room that is smog. Taking firm action against tobacco is fine and dandy, but how about doing more against air pollution than the usual obfuscation and lip service?
I quit smoking many years ago, but given the foulness of this city’s air, the joke is on me. At this rate I might as well light a cigarette again.
Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post