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25

Feb

2019

Hong Kong Plans to Ban E-Cigarettes - a Sensible Measure or Dangerous Nonsense?

The Hong Kong government has recently unveiled plans to make the import, sale, manufacture and marketing of “new smoking products” illegal. As of 20th February, 2019, any person or company that violates any of the above prohibitions will be fined HK$50,000 (£4,883). 
With the new law, China's Special Administrative Region is joining a number of other states and countries where e-cigarettes and similar products are also illegal. Alternative products to tobacco cigarettes are banned in 39 jurisdictions around the world, including Brazil, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. In other countries, such as Australia, some products are regulated. In these cases, only liquids for e-cigarettes without nicotine content may be purchased and used.
The fight against this new technology raises the question of whether such bans really make sense or whether they pose a threat to society. Over the last few years, there have been countless success stories of former smokers who were finally able to overcome their addiction with the help of e-cigarettes.
In this article, we want to find out what’s behind the new ban on e-cigarettes in Hong Kong. In doing so, we will try to answer the question of whether this is a sensible measure or whether the law poses a danger to society.

What is behind the new law?

At first glance, the announcement for the new law in Hong Kong is very surprising. After all, there is almost no other country in the world that suffers more from the health consequences of smoking as China - over 50% of male adults smoke, and lung cancer is the most common cause of death. A ban on healthier alternatives, which have been proven to be effective in combating cigarette addiction, seems more than questionable.
According to the Hong Kong government, the reason for the ban is to protect young people from e-cigarettes. Protecting young people is deemed more important than providing a healthier alternative for smokers. According to Antonio Cho-shing Kwong, chairman of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, e-cigarettes are marketed as trendy products for young people who do not yet smoke. Since the share of smokers among secondary school children is less than 2.5%, products that attract these children are very dangerous.

What are the pros and cons for banning alternatives to tobacco products?

Rather surprisingly, there are some facts that support the statements of Antonio Cho-shing Kwong. For example, only half of the 3 million users of e-cigarettes in the UK are former smokers. In the USA, too, the devices have already faced a lot of criticism. The company JUUL, whose devices account for 75% of the total market for alternatives to tobacco products, was criticised for marketing their products specifically to young people. 
In reality, however, these statements should be put into perspective. For instance, it’s impossible to determine how many e-cigarette users would have started smoking without the new technology. The percentage of underage smokers is lower than ever before - and it continues to fall every year.
As important as the protection of minors is, a complete ban on e-cigarettes is unlikely to be the best solution. In addition, it is very possible that the protection of minors is not the main reason for the ban. There have been several cases in the past where political reasons (e.g. lost tax revenues from tobacco products) were the real reason for bans on e-cigarettes.

Conclusions

The ban of e-cigarettes in Hong Kong is most definitely a negative development. Even though the long-term consequences of consuming e-cigarettes are not yet fully established, it’s widely accepted that the devices are up to 95% less harmful than conventional cigarettes. Given the enormous health risks for smokers, it is safe to assume that a ban on alternative products in countries like China will cost millions of lives in the long run.
Whatever the exact reason for the ban, it’s no question that there are better solutions. Governments could impose stricter requirements on e-cigarette manufacturers in regards to marketing their products. A complete ban on the use of e-cigarettes is likely to only have two consequences: either the sale and use of e-cigarettes will be driven underground, or users will switch back to normal cigarettes. In the long run, both alternatives are decidedly bad for both the population and the government.

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