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Hong Kong’s termination of vaping ban draws regional support

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A regional consumer advocacy group welcomed Hong Kong Legislative Council's (Legco) decision to terminate discussions on the proposed ban on vaping products, saying this will provide smokers with safer smoke-free alternatives.

The Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) is referring to the announcement of Legco’s Bills Committee on Smoking that it ceased discussions over the proposed ban on electronic cigarettes, heat-not-burn tobacco products (HTPs) and other electronic nicotine delivery systems on June 2.

The committee ended its work after nine meetings, including three public hearings, since it was established in March 2019 to tackle a proposed bill that aimed to amend the Smoking Ordinance and impose a blanket ban on vaping or the use of e-cigarettes, HTPs and the likes.

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CAPHRA said these smoke-free nicotine products are considered a part of tobacco harm reduction—a public health strategy which aims to provide alternatives to reduce risks caused by smoking cigarettes.  

The vaping ban in Hong Kong was not imposed after it was strongly opposed by some members of the committee who cited scientific studies showing that e-cigarettes, HTPs and the likes have much lower levels of toxicants compared to combustible cigarettes.

Scientific studies have shown that the harms of these technology-aided products represent less than 5 percent or just a fraction of the health risks of combustible tobacco because they do not involve combustion or burning which is being blamed as the source of toxicants.  It has been known for decades that tar, and carcinogens found in tobacco smoke, cause the death and disease associated with smoking, and not nicotine.  Unlike combustible cigarettes which are being linked to 20,000 deaths a day globally, THR products do not produce smoke as they deliver nicotine by heating, and not burning tobacco.

Nancy Loucas, Executive Coordinator of CAPHRA, noted that Hong Kong, like Japan and Korea, has a high number of former smokers who have switched to HTPs.  “CAPHRA is pleased to see that the impending ban on HTPs in Hong Kong has been abandoned by the government in favour of a pragmatic, science-based approach to tobacco harm reduction,” she said.

“It was pleasing to see that some of the officials involved in the process to decide the fate of the products strongly opposed the ban based on science that proves that HTPs have a lower level of toxicants compared to cigarettes, whilst addressing the concerns of creating black market in illicit trade in the products,” Loucas said.

Loucas, however, said that in Hong Kong, many heated tobacco users were forced back to combustible tobacco because of the inability to access the product in the past year. “Others, with the means, have risked being caught buying through illicit channels. Legislators such as Peter Shui, Raymond CHan and Cheng Chunt-tai, have repeatedly argued that a ban was neither logical nor feasible.  More importantly, all three pointed out that adult smokers should not be deprived of the right to choose tobacco harm reduction,” she said.

A vaping group in the Philippines also welcomed Hong Kong’s termination of the vaping ban proposal. “We welcome the Hong Kong Legislative Council's decision to end the discussions on the proposed ban on electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products amid scientific evidence that these smoke-free alternatives have significantly lower levels of toxicants compared to combustible cigarettes,” said Peter Paul Dator of The Vapers Philippines.

“Rather than a proposed ban, authorities should consider regulation of vaping products and other innovations to prevent the rise of underground activities which are not subject to health standards,” he said.

“The decision of the Bills Committee on Smoking also proves what we have been saying all along—that the most effective way to end smoking is to provide the public with better alternatives in the form of harm reduction products such as e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products, which according to a Public Health England review are at least 95-percent less harmful to humans than combustible tobacco,” Dator said.

“Vaping is not a gateway to smoking.  Rather, it is the reverse as the use of e-cigarettes provides people a way out of smoking which is known to cause illnesses and deaths. Simply said, smoke-free nicotine products such as e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn tobacco products and snus help smokers quit and provide them with alternatives that are much safer than combustible tobacco,” he said.

Dator said a ban on e-cigarettes and HTPs will exacerbate the smoking problem as this will deprive smokers of better alternatives.

“The decision of Hong Kong's Legco should also encourage other Asian countries like the Philippines to look at the merits of THR products as effective tools to quit smoking.  In the Philippines, THR products can provide 16.6 million adult smokers better alternatives than combustible tobacco.  About 77 percent of these smokers wanted to quit, but could not, because of the lack of information on safer alternatives and the Department of Health's adverse position on innovations.

Following Hong Kong's decision, the Philippines should stop talks about banning these smoke-free nicotine products, open dialogue with stakeholders and start a meaningful discussion on proper regulation so that Filipino smokers will have a better chance to quit, according to Dator.


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