Stop cherry-picking information on e-cigarettes, pro-vaping group urges

A new initiative is underway to promote self-regulation among e-cigarette store owners in hope of a positive legislative response from the government.


A local pro-vaping group has called on the government to adopt a “rational regulatory response” to electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), rebutting recent claims by a statutory body on tobacco control that e-cigarettes could be as harmful as their conventional counterparts.

The Hong Kong Vape Association (HKVAPEA), in a letter to the Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) in late September, urged COSH to keep the public “accurately informed” and “be objective” over new tobacco products. This came after a July statement by COSH citing a US study which found toxic metabolites within liquidised e-cigarettes “which might be detrimental to DNA”.

“The results showed that it could be a mistaken perception that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes,” the statement read.

The Hong Kong government has been considering to step up regulation of new tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and other heat-not-burn products, and is set to table a bill at the Legislative Council by this term. COSH has been a vocal proponent of a total ban on the products.

Lately, a study conducted by Dr Chung Shan-shan (鍾姍姍), Assistant Professor of the Baptist University’s Department of Biology, and commissioned the Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) has passed the review process and was published on Journal of Cleaner Production. The study found varying levels of harmful fire retardants, namely polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), as additives in the combustible components of the product.

In response, HKVAPEA brought to its side various health organisations in the UK, among them Public Health England, Action on Smoking and Health, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Lung Foundation, and Cancer Research UK, which have expressed support for the use of e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes. It added that the World Health Organisation no longer advocates for banning e-cigarettes.

“The prohibition of e-cigarettes, if implemented in Hong Kong, will deprive consumers of a safer alternative to tobacco. Further, there is no evidence that the use of e-cigarette has any gateway effect.  As such, it is incongruous with the values of Hong Kong where economic freedom is championed and the free movement of goods is constitutionally guaranteed,” its letter to COSH asserted. “Whilst COSH has a mission to discourage smoking, as a public funded organization, public statements from the Council should keep the public accurately informed and should be objective.”

The group has also proposed a meeting with COSH but to no avail.

In fact, another recent study – with results also published in the US – found that switching cigarette smokers to e-cigarette use would lead to an increase in average life expectancy.

Calvis Lee, Vice Chairman of HKVAPEA, accuses COSH of cherry-picking sources that work to its advantage while disregarding those that would suggest otherwise.

“It would be unwise and unfair for them [COSH] to ignore the positive developments happening around e-cigarettes,” Lee argues. “And the government should not see this as an additional regulatory burden to them but rather a contribution towards public health.”

Calvis Lee briefing journalists on Hong Kong’s e-cigarette market in mainland China. (Credit: HKVAPEA)

To this end, Lee says that HKVAPEA has been approaching the city’s some 30 e-cigarette store owners in its latest self-regulatory initiative. The group is drafting a charter promising: 1) not to sell e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18; not to sell e-cigarettes containing 2) nicotine and 3) other harmful substances such as carbon monoxide; and 4) not to deliver false information to the public. Around 20 store owners have already responded positively to the initiative according to Lee. It is hoped that the charter can serve as a basis of sensible regulation for the government.

“I have store owners coming to me reflecting difficulties on logistics issues when dealing with various government departments in particular as there is currently no such framework setting out the responsibilities,” Lee adds. “They want to do good business and they want to do it under a clear legal framework.”

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