Regarding the Legislative Council Bills Committee Meeting on the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2019 (the Bill)* held today (17 November), the meeting mentioned to regulate heat-not-burn (HNB) tobacco products while impose a ban on electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) only, Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) reiterates the stance to support a total ban on all alternative smoking products since all forms of tobacco products are hazardous to health. COSH urges the Legislative Council (LegCo) to pass the Bill as soon as possible.
Mr Henry TONG, COSH Chairman said, “The act of regulating HNB tobacco products while banning e-cigarettes only will definitely deliver misleading messages to the general public and loosen their vigilance on the health risks posed by HNB tobacco products. This will lure non-smokers especially the youngsters to start smoking, similar to the tobacco epidemic of conventional cigarettes in the 1980s. Alternative smoking products have variety of fancy designs which is difficult for the public to identify their differences as well as hazards. Thus, COSH urges the LegCo to take serious consideration on the potential health risks caused by alternative smoking products and pass the Bill promptly to enact a total ban on all alternative smoking products. COSH also advocates to impose a total ban on conventional cigarettes with a defined schedule to safeguard public health, particularly for the next generation.”
Alternative smoking products are marketed with novel designs and plenty of flavors. Their sophisticated promotion tactics downplay the health risks associated with smoking and tempt the youngsters and non-smokers to try. In other countries, despite the fact that there are regulations on the advertising and sales of alternative smoking products to underage persons, their popularity has grown exponentially among the young generations. For examples, in the U.S. there were about 11 million people using e-cigarettes in total and more than 5 million secondary school students were using e-cigarettes in 2019. In South Korea, there was a surge in HNB tobacco products use among the underage group (2.8% in 2019) in just 2 years after the products were introduced in 2017.
According to a school-based survey on smoking commissioned by the Food and Health Bureau and conducted by the School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong from October 2018 to July 2019, 2,530 and 1,510 primary school students have ever used e-cigarettes and HNB tobacco products respectively, in which more than half (51.5%) and 34.9% of them were never smokers. Also, 24,740 and 7,490 secondary school students have ever used e-cigarettes and HNB tobacco products. These figures revealed that the use of alternative smoking products is emerging in primary schools and secondary schools, and could become a gateway to smoking. If we do not nip it in the bud, a serious threat will be imposed on public health and bring extra burden on the healthcare system and economy in the long run. By then, it will be too late to re-consider a total ban on these alternative smoking products.
COSH must reaffirm that the HNB tobacco products are addictive tobaccos and their “safety” or “less harmful” claims have not been recognized. There is no conclusive evidence that e-cigarettes and HNB tobacco products could help smoking cessation. Hong Kong should set a Tobacco Endgame goal by adopting a multi-pronged approach to contain the proliferation of tobacco use. Stringent measures shall be gradually adopted on conventional cigarettes to motivate more smokers to quit smoking in order to push forward the Tobacco Endgame, instead of switching to other hazardous smoking products. COSH strongly appeals to the Government and the LegCo to make prompt response on public views by passing the Bill to enact a total ban on alternative smoking products as soon as possible, and developing the policy and blueprint for banning conventional cigarettes as well to further reduce smoking prevalence for a smoke-free Hong Kong.
* Government proposed the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2019 to prohibit the import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertisement of alternative smoking products including electronic cigarettes, heat-not-burn tobacco products and herbal cigarettes.

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