World’s vaping industry under thick cloud as HK moves to complete ban

As regulators worldwide regulate e-cigarettes, the Hong Kong government is set to ban it despite protests from industry and consumers.


Hong Kong is one step closer to imposing a complete ban on electronic cigarettes, aka e-cigs, aka vaping devices, while the industry is already engaging in an uphill battle against regulators across the globe.

Earlier in June, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man (高永文) stated at a Legco session that the Hong Kong government is planning to table an amendment bill in the 2016/2017 legislative year to “completely prohibit the import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertising of e-cigarettes”.

Commenting on the proposed ban, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Vape Association Fun Cheung  (張景勛) argues that the government should not level e-cigarettes with drugs. “There are already many evidence and reports showing that e-cigs are less harmful than the traditional ones,” he says. “The public should be more open-minded and understand that e-cigs are not evil.”

Following numerous reports suggesting that vaping can help people quit smoking, a US study further argues that vaporised nicotine products could significantly reduce smoking-related deaths and disease. Cheung’s group, while lobbying against a complete ban, is calling for regulations that will instead prohibit the use of nicotine in e-cigs and takes it as a lesser of two evils. Cheung further warned that a ban could lead to the emergence of a black market.

Incumbent legislator Kwok Wai-keung (郭偉強), who has been calling for strict regulations on the use of e-cigarettes, has yet responded to HT‘s questions regarding the proposed ban.

The missing debates

The Hong Kong government’s move came a month after the US’s ‘deeming regulations’ – as the pro-vaping camp terms it – and the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) were promulgated on both sides of the pond. To various degrees, the pro-vaping camp has panned the regulations to be excessive and unreasonable. Both regard e-cigs as consumer tobacco products and both allow local governments to regulate further, but the two are different in many senses.

In short, the European TPD is a framework that outlines requirements for an e-cig product to be sold in the market, most notably on nicotine concentration, container size and advertisement. Manufacturers are allowed to sell any product as long as it is compliant with the rules, with the local authorities notified six months in prior. The 499-page ‘deeming regulations’ issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meanwhile, requires every single product to be submitted alongside heavy documentations for approval, but has as of yet to clarify upon what criteria a product is approved. Their respective impacts remain to be seen, but expectations are that the heavy paperwork, in the case of the FDA, and the prohibition of online, television, radio and print advertising in the case of the TPD will likely drive SMEs out of the multi-billion market range. Some, meanwhile, take these regulations as the lesser of two evils.

Recent and more encouraging news for the vaping society is that the New Zealand government is considering making the sale and supply of e-cigarettes legal with the exact regulations still to be debated. But it is also a development that is now increasingly unlikely for Hong Kong to follow.

“It’s a social justice issue,” End Smoking NZ’s Chairperson Associate Professor Marewa Glover told HT during a science and policy vaping conference held in Warsaw in May. “Some governments and their politicians have been adopting a strategy to mislead and manipulate the public to incite hatred towards smokers.”

Peter Beckett, a UK-based consultant and industrial-level advocate, expressed some of  the frustration felt by the industry and consuming public, “We want more evidence-based policies instead of policy-based evidence.”

Alex Fok

Alex Fok

Alex Fok is a Harbour Times journalist monitoring Hong Kong’s daily political scene and diplomatic updates. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Economics, Politics and International Studies from University of Warwick and his master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a former committee member of the Warwick-based Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society (WHKPASS) and was the chief editor of the society’s magazine – PASSTIMES.
Alex Fok