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March 11th, 2009:

Electronic Cigarettes Are Ruled Illegal

Updated on Mar 11, 2009 – SCMP

I refer to the report (“Electronic cigarettes are ruled illegal”, March 5).

I would like to know what clinical trials or statistical evidence Health Department director Lam Ping-yan is drawing upon when he asserts that using electronic cigarettes is dangerous to health: “Using the unregistered product was dangerous, he warned.”

According to the manufacturers of electronic cigarettes, the nicotine-delivery medium is propylene glycol, the same chemical used in discotheque and theatrical smoke machines.

It is also used as a moisturising agent in medicines, cosmetics, food, toothpaste, mouthwash and tobacco products.

Certainly, tests should be carried out, but my gut feeling is that inhaling this vapour combined with pure nicotine has got to be better than burning leaves treated with numerous chemicals and inhaling the smoke.

Nicotine-replacement therapy is recognised as an effective method for quitting smoking but, in my experience, the conventional products – gum, patches, inhalers – are poor substitutes and prohibitively expensive.

I accept that the product must be registered under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance and appropriate safeguards implemented, given the amount of nicotine in a capsule.

At the same time, unless it can be proven to be more damaging than cigarettes, I urge the Hong Kong government to allow this product to be sold in Hong Kong at its current (cheaper than cigarettes) price. If the government is sincere in its claim that it wants to support smokers who want to quit, then this product must be considered.

Clive Keep, Lamma

Steep Tobacco Tax Rises

Steep tobacco tax rises do not lead to lower rates of smoking

Updated on Mar 11, 2009 – SCMP

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah told the media that the smoking population is going up and this is especially true in the case of females and youths, thus justifying a huge 50 per cent increase in tobacco tax in the budget.

However, this is not the case. The latest survey released by the Census and Statistics Department in November last year shows that the percentage of smokers in the 15 to 19 age group – that is, youths – has declined from 3.5 per cent to 2.4 per cent (“Proportion of young smokers fails”, December 4). The percentage of young female smokers dropped nearly 50 per cent, from 2 per cent to 1.2 per cent between 2005 and 2007.

The percentage of Hong Kong people who smoke has also dropped sharply – from 14 per cent to 11.8 per cent, which is the sharpest drop in recent years.

A study in the British Medical Journal in 2007 showed that cigarettes in Hong Kong were the 11th most expensive (or least affordable) in the 60 major cities in the world. With the drastic 50 per cent tax hike in the budget, Hong Kong will likely become the world’s most expensive place to smoke. Rarely have we seen the government going to such extremes. I dispute another claim by Mr Tsang, that raising tobacco tax would lead to reduced smoking rates.

The last time the government imposed a heavy increase on tobacco tax was in the early 1990s with a rise of 100 per cent.

However, smoking rates in Hong Kong throughout the 1990s did not drop either in terms of the actual number of smokers or in terms of the incidence of smoking. In fact, there was a dramatic increase in the number of smokers during that decade.

It is ironic that in Legco, as recently as last month, Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok quoted the Census and Statistics Department survey [already referred to] that between December 2007 and March 2008, the percentage of smokers in the 15 to 19 age group in Hong Kong dropped from 3.5 per cent in 2005 to 2.4 per cent.

He said: “This shows that the tobacco control measures aimed at young people have been largely effective.”

Chan Yu-chung, Mid-Levels