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Electronic Cigarettes Being Sold Illegally

Mary Ann Benitez – SCMP
Updated on Jan 20, 2008

Electronic cigarettes, widely advertised on the internet, are unregistered in Hong Kong and anyone selling them in the city would be breaking the law, the government said.

At least one leading brand has acknowledged that its e-cigarettes are on sale in Hong Kong. The latest fad in devices to help smokers quit, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine without the harmful effects of burning tobacco. They have caught the attention of Auckland University researchers, who will begin tests on them this month.

Anti-tobacco lobbyists in Hong Kong were at odds, however, about regulating the device. Hong Kong-based Ruyan Group Holdings said its e-cigarettes were sold in Hong Kong. “You can purchase e-cigarettes by phone,” a Ruyan representative told the Sunday Morning Post.

Its product information said Ruyan’s “unique product” has two targets: habitual smokers and those who want to quit. Habitual smokers would get regular nicotine from e-cigarettes, while those who wanted to quit would have an “effective nicotine replacement therapy, a more satisfying alternative to nicotine pills and patches”.

Ruyan e-cigarettes, patented in 40 countries, included e-cigars, e-cigarettes, e-pipes and cartridges with different flavours and levels of nicotine, the company said.

But the Department of Health said such devices were pharmaceutical products and must be registered before they could be sold.

“There is no e-cigarette registered as a pharmaceutical product in Hong Kong,” it said. Possession or sale of unregistered pharmaceutical products carries a maximum HK$100,000 fine and two years’ jail. The law covers products sold on the internet, the department said.

When asked whether the device should be regulated, Council on Smoking and Health chairman Homer Tso Wei-kwok said the watchdog had known about e-cigarettes for some time and had even been sent a sample. “It is a nicotine-delivery device. It atomises the nicotine so you can suck it in,” Dr Tso said.

The council did not plan to test the device but, he said: “It is probably more dangerous than cigarettes [as] you are delivering pure nicotine.”

However, Anthony Hedley, chair professor of the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong and a former council chairman, said: “I am kind of neutral at the moment. On the one hand, we have to continue looking at the issue of harm reduction.

“Nicotine is not totally innocuous but it is hugely less toxic than the by-products of combustion of tobacco or heavily chemically contaminated chewing tobacco.”

He said the device could be a “gateway” for young people to take up smoking but its prohibitive price – about HK$1,600 a unit – would be a deterrent.

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