New forms of smoking catch on

Local | Jane Cheung 24 May 2019

The number of people smoking e-cigarettes more than tripled in the span of 12 months, according to the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health.

And the number of people who have tried heat-not-burn tobacco products has increased from 0.9 percent to 2.1 percent of the SAR's total smoking population, according to a survey of 5,000 people.

Based on there being 6.6 million people above 15 in Hong Kong, that would translate to about 130,000 people.

Daniel Ho Sai-yin, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong's School of Public Health, conducted two phone surveys in 2017 and last year, each covering about 5,000 people.

Last year's estimated 42,000 e-cigarette users was more than triple the number of 13,200 in 2017.

Ho said the 15-29 age group has a higher ratio of e-cigarette and heat-not-burn users.

"We saw an increase of users in various age groups, which tells us that not only teenagers try these products out of curiosity," he said.

And 60 percent of survey respondents supported adopting a complete ban on new tobacco products, he added."

Judith Mackay, director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control and a senior policy adviser to the World Health Organization, said most studies have shown new forms of smoking are unsafe and no less harmful than conventional cigarettes.

Similar to tactics used for traditional cigarettes in the past, she said, new products are marketed through various channels and include using celebrities to front them.

"The tobacco industry has opened heat-not-burn product flagship stores, cafes and sponsored public events such as concerts and car races around the world, which is alarming," she added.

Chia Kee-seng, a professor at the National University of Singapore's School of Public Health, said that besides imposing a total ban on new tobacco products Singapore has developed policies to reduce the risk of a tobacco epidemic, including increasing the legal age for purchasing to 21.

In Hong Kong, a bill has gone to the Legislative Council to ban the import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertising of new smoking products. But even if that passes, smoking such products will not be illegal.

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