Why a blanket ban on vaping and e-cigarettes is bad news for HK teenagers

Ernest Leung

To ban e-cigarettes while allowing the sale of traditional cigarettes sends confusing signals

Ernest Leung |

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A study by Public Health England said that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco.

Hong Kong’s Health Minister Sophia Chan Siu-Chee said recently that while the government won’t be imposing a blanket ban on e-cigarettes, they will be subjected to the same stringent controls as traditional cigarettes.

The local medical profession has been advocating a total ban on e-cigarettes, but there are good reasons not to adopt it.

The medical sector has described the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes among young people as an epidemic that needs to be nipped in the bud.

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First, while the medical profession has produced rather polarised studies on the health effects of e-cigarettes, all of their research seem to point towards the fact that the devices are far less harmful than their traditional counterparts. A 2015 study by Public Health England went as far as to show that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco.

Many sought to caution against the possibility of e-cigarettes as a potential gateway, opening up the door for youngsters to smoke. In fact, that seems to be the position of many medical professionals: it is particularly easy for youngsters to pick up the habit of vaping and they might just as easily slide down the slope and take up smoking.

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A point to note, however, is that the only reason e-cigarettes are so popular among teenagers is because they are well aware of the harmful effects of tobacco smoke. It is difficult to see how vaping would eventually lead people to take up smoking and there are hardly any conclusive studies that support this concern.

As with tobacco and other harmful substances, teenagers are especially prone to trying them under peer pressure or out of curiosity. To ban e-cigaretteswhile allowing the sale of traditional cigarettes sends confusing signals.

If the government believes that teenagers should be informed of the health hazards of e-cigarettes, they can do so effectively through education, such as is the case with traditional cigarettes. The problem, I think, is that we know e-cigarettes are harmful, but we don’t know how harmful they are.

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In conclusion, e-cigarettes present a potentially less harmful alternative to smoking. For health reasons, it would be prudent to discourage the use of e-cigarettes, especially among young people, through education programmes.

The fact that e-cigarettes are harmful would mean that regulations should exist but the government should consider both the threats and opportunities they present.

A blanket ban on e-cigarettes is simply unwise.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda