Poll: The people want timely tobacco alternatives

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Smoke and vape on government’s plans for alternatives to smoking

Unlike other countries, Hong Kong is still indecisive about its approach to alternative tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn-products. The government is still mulling over regulations on these products.

Hong Kong-based consumer advocate factasia.org is urging the government to regulate and allow the sale of alternative tobacco products, claiming consumers have the right to choose what they buy and use.

The group justifies this appeal on Tuesday based on a survey conducted by market researcher Ipsos.

It reveals that out of 1,000 smoking and non-smoking correspondents in Hong Kong, 65 percent said there should be tax and regulatory policies to help people switch to alternative tobacco products while ensuring those products are kept away from the youth.

Personal choice

Mr Heneage Mitchell, co-founder of factasia.org, argues that alternative tobacco products are much safer and less harmful.

“Unlike conventional cigarettes, alternative tobacco products don’t generate second-hand smoke…. E-cigarettes, for example, [emit] largely just water vapor,” he says.

In 2015, the UK government said e-cigarettes are around 95 percent less harmful than conventional cigarettes based on an expert independent evidence review.

Mr Mitchell also says heat-not-burn products do not generate tar and only very little nicotine due to the absence of combustion.

“It should be a personal choice for people to use these products to improve their quality of life,” he urges. “These products mimic smoking without causing the harmful effects.”

His view is supported by 58 percent of smokers polled, who said the government should not delay the introduction of less harmful alternatives.

The group’s survey also says 60 percent of all correspondents believe “if a new product is scientifically proven to have the potential to reduce the risk of smoking as compared to conventional cigarettes, adult smokers should have the right to access this information”.

Global evidence

factasia.org says the legalization of these products by the global community has shown that more smokers are turning away from the harmful conventional cigarettes.

“In Japan, there is a 20 percent drop in cigarette smoking while 20 percent of the smokers have switched to heat-not-burn tobacco,” says the group.

As of 2018, 1.2 million UK adult vapers have quit smoking and more than six million smokers in the EU have done the same.

“Where alternative products have been popular, we have seen rapid declines in smoking,” says factasia.org. “For example, in the UK, Sweden, the U.S., and in Japan where cigarette consumption fell by 27 percent in the two years between first quarter 2016 and the same period in 2018 following the introduction of heated tobacco products.”

The Hong Kong case

The Food and Health Bureau and the local medical community argue that legalizing these alternatives might encourage the youth to pick up smoking.

But Mr Mitchell refutes this argument, saying there is “zero evidence” that vapers would revert to conventional cigarettes.

Having said that, he agrees that there should be appropriate regulation to ensure these products are not used by those under 18.

“Other than age restrictions, the government should impose regulations regarding manufacturing and distribution,” he adds.

This way, the products would comply with international manufacturing standards to ensure safety and there would be permits for shops to sell these products to make sure they are legitimate.

“Banning the alternative tobacco products is not an answer. If you ban them, you lose control of them. People can go to the black market for them,” Mr Mitchell concludes.

Currently, there are over 600,000 smokers in Hong Kong and people using alternatives are widely seen in the streets of Hong Kong. The government is amending the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance to define the alternative tobacco products in order to regulate them.

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