Ban would poison the air over vaping

Central Station | Mary Ma 9 Nov 2018

The conviction of a 26-year-old man for possession of electronic cigarettes containing Part 1 poison is alarming.

The "poison" cited in the case was nicotine, found in e-cigarettes he was delivering to an undercover agent posing as a customer.

Tsu Yan-kin was convicted on Wednesday of three charges: selling an unregistered pharmaceutical product, illegal sales and possession of Part 1 poisons - the nicotine.

On a par with nicotine on the Department of Health's Part 1 list are items such as cocaine, morphine and papaverine.

It was the first conviction involving e-cigarettes since Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor declared in the policy address her administration would ban their "import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertisement." Her announcement was hailed by anti-smoking lobbies as decisive, and slammed by smokers as too draconian.

While the penalty for Tsu may be lenient - a HK$5,000 fine plus cost of tests - in view of the maximum punishment previously meted out of a HK$40,000 fine and two months in jail, the conviction in relation to possession is cause for concern since vapers could be in danger of falling into the legal dragnet.

Could someone vape without possessing the gadget?

The fear is legitimate. Although official statistics for the vaping population are incomplete, the consensus is that they are many and their numbers are growing. Prominent barrister Cheng Huan has disclosed in his column he too has friends who have switched to e-cigarettes in order to cut back on or quit tobacco.

Does the courier's conviction for possession imply breaches of the law by vapers too?

That would be astonishing - stunning in fact, because no vaper has been charged so far - and the law, as such, is allowed to be breached day in, day out.

It's shocking because the government has made it clear after the policy address that while commercial activities related to e-cigs and new smoking products would be outlawed, personal consumption won't be targeted.

Tsu's conviction has created a gray area that the government must immediately clarify in order to avoid causing public alarm.

Meanwhile, it's just as ironic to learn that even without the legal amendments Lam has pledged to introduce to make the "import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertisement" of e-cigs illegal, the law is powerful enough in its current form.

Therefore, is it necessary to create new provisions aimed at a similar effect?

The debate on e-cigarettes has gone beyond the realm of science into questions of morality. If tobacco is more harmful, then why isn't tobacco banned first?

From a public health point of view, e-cigs could be a threat to non-smokers and beneficial for tobacco addicts. Lam's draconian ban clearly stems from concern that, if electronic cigarettes are permitted to become fashionable, non-smoking juveniles would be tempted to try them due to peer pressure.

Nonetheless, the ban is only one of a growing number of examples of the government racing to introduce policies of wide impact - without giving society advance warning or allowing consultation. As such, people are being caught totally off-guard.

Officials seem to have forgotten their commitment is proper communication.

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