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Smoking alternative bill remains in stalemate

Experts continue to debate the efficacy of heated tobacco products as a ban on these items is still in deliberation in Hong Kong.


The Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) held a press conference on Thursday calling for a total ban on all alternative smoking products.

This came amid a recent resumption of the bills committee scrutiny on Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Bill 2019 which proposes a complete ban on smoking alternative products including electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs).

According to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong University School of Nursing interviewing some 5,000 respondents between December 2019 and October 2020, close to 10 percent of current smokers use HTPs only or use both HTPs and cigarettes.

Dr Kelvin Wang, Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Nursing pointed out that while 44 percent of smokers used HTPs for smoking cessation, eventually, the likelihood of successful quitting at six months was not enhanced.

Vienna Lai, COSH Executive Director shared that the World Health Organisation also reiterates HTPs are not harmless or less harmful and advises smokers to quit all tobacco use.

“Banning heated products means current smokers will have to continue to smoke conventional cigarettes which are known to be lethal for a huge proportion of users.”

David Sweanor, adjunct professor in the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa

The bill, first tabled in LegCo in February 2019, was the subject of polarised opinions from the public. When the bills committee was resumed in November this year with a predominantly pro-establishment council, a strong consensus was formed in support of banning electronic cigarettes and allowing regulated use of HTPs.

Legislators cited accounts from multiple jurisdictions including the US Food and Drug Administration’s authorisation of a heated tobacco product to be sold as “modified risk tobacco product” in July this year and an overall drop in tobacco consumption in Japan following the launch of HTPs to challenge the Government’s rationale behind the outright ban.

When asked during the press conference about the Japan case and whether there is any concrete example of total tobacco consumption going back up in countries where HTPs are sold, Dr Wang said the drop can be attributed to better education and tobacco control measures instead.

The debate seems to have attracted international attention. Canadian public health advocate David Sweanor, adjunct professor in the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa, submitted a letter to the bills committee in support of regulating HTPs as a measure to protect public health.

“[T]he science tells us that these heated products will almost certainly be tremendously less hazardous than existing cigarettes, and it is those cigarettes that should be the comparator,” Professor Sweanor asserted in the letter. 

“Banning heated products means current smokers will have to continue to smoke conventional cigarettes which are known to be lethal for a huge proportion of users.”

Printer: R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong

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