Face Off: Should the government ban the supply, sale and promotion of e-cigarettes in Hong Kong?

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …

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Emily Li, 15, Renaissance College

Ever since e-cigarettes became so accessible and popular, they have led to a toxic, in-trend youth culture. This alone is more than enough reason for the product to be banned. More and more teenagers are picking up vaping, often for the wrong reasons.

The lack of a taboo around such a novel, new craze creates a culture of acceptance and glamorisation, and it’s easy to get swept up in the misinformed idea that using e-cigarettes is harmless or safe.

Sure, it might be marginally healthier in comparison to smoking a traditional, combustible cigarette, but there are still huge numbers of chemicals in vape liquids that have proven to be addictive.

Nicotine in particular, the highly addictive drug, is as present in e-cigarettes as it is in the traditional variety. And have you seen the flavours you can choose from? Mango tea, blueberry cheesecake, apple strudel ... these are no accident.

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In a recent study conducted by the Council on Smoking and Health, almost 37.4 per cent of respondents admitted trying e-cigarettes when they were between the ages of 15 and 29. Their undeniable appeal to younger people – sweet flavours and easy accessibility – is evident. After all, unlike smoking, all it takes is one quick “hit” in a bathroom to get you “buzzed”: your odourless, convenient, and flavourful nicotine fix.

Unfortunately, e-cigarettes are still so new that their long-term effects have not yet been sufficiently researched, but there is cause for concern. A 2017 study estimated that approximately 2.1 million American middle and high school students had tried e-cigarettes, with an 80 per cent increase from just the past year. And this is what is so risky about e-cigarettes: they’re shiny, and new, and hundreds of teens are picking up what is effectively a gateway drug every single day.

So, let’s be honest with ourselves. We’ve all heard about vaping, and many people are curious to try it. We should be grateful for the government’s proposal to ban the products and put an end to this potentially disastrous teen epidemic before it picks up as much steam as it has done in the States.

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Iris Lee, 16, Hong Kong International School

An outright blanket ban of e-cigarettes is ineffective and counterproductive.

Firstly, a ban would inevitably lead to  the emergence of a black market. E-cigarettes are difficult to track down because the new law doesn’t criminalise vapers themselves. The Civic Party said in a statement that “banning sales while allowing use will in fact encourage smuggling”. 

The government will have a new problem on their hands and will have to turn to regulation rather than a ban anyway – and current regulations are not even close to what it takes to curb a hypothetical black market. The legislation needs more teeth in the form of increased enforcement and investigative staff.

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Lastly, by banning e-cigarettes, the government  is eliminating a path that smokers take to wean themselves off the traditional cigarette. Public  Health England, in Britain, concluded in a study that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than traditional cigarettes; Action on Smoking and Health concluded that more than half of the estimated 2.9 million people in Britain who use  e-cigarettes had quit smoking tobacco. 

If the government wishes to protect public health, why does it discriminate against less harmful methods that encourage quitting, while leaving normal cigarettes alone? The new law would turn vapers to either the black market or  to normal cigarettes, which pose a higher threat to public health.

To curb smoking, regulations are more effective than a ban. It is true that e-cigarettes still do have adverse side effects; to address this, regulations should cover evaluating ingredients and health risks led by expert consultation and research. 

Edited by Karly Cox