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Reported by Kwok Yau Wai, Chan Man Yi and Fung Chi Man

(Featured Image from Creative Commons: https://www.ecigclick.co.uk/)

According to the Policy Address 2018 (published in October 2018), Carrie Lam , the Chief Executive of the HKSAR Government, has made a total ban to e-cigarettes and other new tobacco products. However, as claimed by the proposal from the Hong Kong government in June 2018, e-cigarettes and other new tobacco alternatives would be regulated in the same way as conventional smoking products.

Let’s run deep into the reason why the government made a big turn on the issue of whether e-cigarettes should be banned or regulated.

Current smoking situation in Hong Kong

The number of current smokers aged 15 and above is dropping. In 2008, there were 754,800 smokers. It dropped to 667,500 in 2017. It is a huge decrease.

Although the number of people taking cigarette in total has a decreasing tendency, there is a different picture in the number of people taking cigarette by age, in which number of smokers in age group 60 older was increased 43.2% from 2008 to 2017. Besides, the group of 50-59 who took cigarette was climbed 6.2%. Yet, the number of cigarette smokers who are below 49 age groups are decreasing. 20-29 age group shows the biggest change which dropped 45.4%. For age between 15 to 19, there is a slightly decrease only.

In 2017, there were 5,700 e-cigarette smokers in Hong Kong. Although there is no data showing the exact number in before 2015, e-cigarette smokers in 2015 were less than 1,000.  The increase of numbers of e-cigarette smokers is at least 470% while using the number 1,000 for the number of 2015. The number of e-cigarette smokers skyrocketed within 2 years.  Aforementioned in the previous part, the decrease in smokers who aged 39 or younger, seems to change from smoking conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes. It seems that the number of people using e-cigarettes would continue to climb gradually in the coming years.

Reason for Hongkongers becoming smokers

In 2017, the major reason for people start smoking is being influenced by friends, which is 48.21%. Curiosity is the second reason that urge them to smoke.  Especially for people start smoking because of their friends, this reason kept major throughout these 10 years since 2009. According to a study from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 2015, 41% of more than 2000 teenagers said that they had tried e-cigarettes recently but they had never tried conventional cigarettes, in which if their friends also smoke e-cigarettes, they had even more positive views to them.  That means, teenagers perceptions of e-cigarettes can be influenced by their friends, which matches with the result done by the HKSAR Government.

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Structure of e-cigarettes

Some people claim that e-cigarette are less harmful than traditional cigarette, but is it true? Referring to figure 1, the cartridge part helps storing liquid solution of glycerol, flavouring and nicotine, which are some toxic elements that can cause cancer. Hong Kong Baptist University carried out a test on 13 e-cigarettes. It found that the e-cigarettes contain some well-known harmful hazardous chemical substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and formaldehyde. Also, the School of Public Health of the university of Hong Kong found that students who use e-cigarette will rise the risk of having respiratory symptoms.

Source: coloradohealthinstitute

Legal status’s attitude towards e-cigarettes

Status with green colour such as Russia, China and the United States, are representing e-cigarettes are permitted. Status with orange colour including Australia, Sweden and Norway etc. has partial permission. Moreover, status with red colour means that the policy is totally banned. Status like Canada and Iran, which with blue colour means e-cigarettes policy is unclear.

According to the graph, if partial permission is also calculated in the category of e-cigarette-banned country, countries having negative stands on e-cigarettes are far more than e-cigarettes permitted countries.

Reason of Hong Kong government suddenly change their attitude

In September 2018, the FDA of the United States made a statement that teenagers from the US were overwhelmed by smoking e-cigarettes.  And they announced that they would consider a ban on flavored e-cigarettes in response to the current problems. At last, they officially announced to crack down on tobacco products aimed at young people in November 2018.  Look at Hong Kong’s situation – the new tobacco products started to emerge these years that everyone can buy or even sell e-cigarettes. By summarizing all the statistic results, it seems that the government also noticed that one of the e-cigarettes permitted country – the United States, also try to use various ways to restrict the use of e-cigarettes and new tobacco products for teenagers.

In Carrie Lam’s speech in Policy Address, she said that e-cigarettes are often packaged as better substitutes to normal cigarettes, with promotional activities often targeting young people. But the harmful effects of these products may have been underestimated.  With the use of government data and some sources worldwide, that proves the main reason for the government making a U-turn on the issue of whether e-cigarettes should be banned or regulated.