Powerful backing for plan to crush e-cigs

Local | Jane Cheung 16 Oct 2018

A broad cross-section of society yesterday offered support for a ban on e-cigarettes but called on authorities to act quickly.

This followed Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor saying in her policy address that the import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertising of e-cigarettes and other new tobacco products will be banned completely in the SAR.

Twenty-four groups from six sectors - tobacco control organizations, medical professionals, academia, education, youth services and medical patients - released a statement backing the initiative.

But some people voiced concerns about the ban on e-cigarettes perhaps tempting people to buy illicit products as regular cigarettes remain legal. And some called for new laws to be a priority in this legislative year.

Antonio Kwong Cho-shing, chairman of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, said legislation needed to be fast and full on to nip new tobacco products in the bud. "There may be lobbying, litigation and other interference by the tobacco industry," he said. "But no concessions should be made."

Gabriel Leung Cheuk-wai, dean of the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Medicine, said he appreciated the administration's determination to adopt stricter tobacco controls.

He then called on Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po to increase the tobacco tax in the coming budget.

"We last raised the tobacco tax in 2011, but the rate is still much lower than the recommended level from the World Health Organization," he said. "Past experience has proven tax rises to be the most effective measure to force smokers to quit." The existing tobacco tax is 67 percent of the retail price, but the WHO recommends 75 percent.

Leung also criticized some groups for opposing a ban on e-cigarettes and claiming such products can help smokers quit traditional cigarettes, but he noted they are backed by big tobacco. He pointed to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World and said it put out ambiguous claims. And he questioned its motives.

Leung also believes legislative procedures will face challenges from tobacco companies and does not rule out the possibility of a judicial review. And he wants fast legislative action as he fears more people will start smoking e-cigarettes and using other tobacco products before laws are enacted.

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