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March 6th, 2016:

Stringent rules on sale of e-cigarettes needed to protect youngsters

A survey published last month by the Census and Statistics Department shows daily cigarette smokers account for 10.5 per cent of all persons aged 15 and over in Hong Kong – the lowest figure since 1982.

The results offer little room for complacency as it was revealed in the same report that 9 per cent of secondary school students reported having used electronic cigarettes. If the statistics are any guide, there are reasons to be concerned about easy access to e-cigarettes.

Teenagers are at risk as the health implications of e-cigarettes are often played down. More stringent rules governing the sale and use of e-cigarettes should be in place.

A laboratory test commissioned by the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (COSH) shows that of the 13 e-cigarettes sampled, most contain harmful chemicals. Among them are formaldehyde, glycerin and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Also, e-cigarette cartridges contain various concentrations of nicotine. Vaping may induce nicotine dependence and blood vessel constriction.

A study published in the journal Oral Oncology showed that vapour from the electronic devices could have deleterious effects on DNA or even kill human cells.

Indeed, the World Health Organisation in 2014 questioned the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a seemingly more favourable way to quit smoking. They have not been widely credited with promising smoking cessation.

While the WHO has warned of the health implications of e-cigarettes, there is differing evidence for or against their health impact. However, there is no escaping the fact that carcinogens are present in e-cigarette vapour, albeit lower compared with tobacco smoke.

Even if there is no evidence pointing to the fact that vaping is as harmful as smoking, teenagers should not think that vaping is any less harmful. The lesser-of-two-evils idea is a self-deception.

That COSH has no qualms about calling for a blanket ban on the sale of e-cigarettes in Hong Kong (“E-cigarette cancer alarm raised”, March 1) is a timely reminder that measures targeting e-cigarettes have to be in line with other efforts in place.

Before the e-cigarette business spins out of control and the population of people using them expands, it is crucial that we nip that expansion in the bud and keep them away from teenagers.

Borromeo Li Ka-kit, Happy Valley
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