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LCQ20: Regulation of e-cigarettes

Hong Kong (HKSAR) – Following is a question by the Dr Hon Priscilla Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (June 15):


In 2014, the World Health Organization issued a report proposing to bring electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) under regulation. Since then, a number of countries have enacted legislation to regulate e-cigarettes. Earlier on, the media captured photographs of a girl smoking a fruit-flavoured e-cigarette in a public place, causing some members of the community to worry about the increasing popularity of smoking e-cigarettes among young people and children in Hong Kong. They are of the view that there is an urgent need to regulate the manufacture, import, sale, distribution and publicity of e-cigarettes (including e-cigarettes not containing nicotine).In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1)as the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) submitted a paper to the Panel on Health Services of this Council in as early as May last year indicating that the Government would study the enactment of legislation to regulate e-cigarettes, and the officials from the Bureau have reiterated such intention to the media in recent months, and quite a number of members of the community have also requested for expeditious enactment of legislation, of the timetable and details of such legislative work, and whether the authorities will undertake to introduce the relevant bill to this Council within this year;

(2)given that quite a number of e-cigarettes and e-cigarette liquid are currently sold on the Internet, how the Government has planned to regulate the online sale of e-cigarettes;

(3)whether it has studied how overseas legislation and relevant initiatives which regulate e-cigarette products not containing nicotine; if it has, of the details, as well as the provisions and initiatives which are of reference value to Hong Kong; and

(4)as it was discovered in a survey commissioned by FHB and conducted by the University of Hong Kong in the past two years that 2.6% of primary school students and 9% of secondary school students indicated that they had smoked e-cigarettes before, whether the authorities have launched publicity exercises targeting both secondary and primary school students on the perils of smoking e-cigarettes; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



My reply to the questions raised by the Dr Hon Priscilla Leung is as follows:

(1)According to the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap. 138), e-cigarettes containing nicotine are considered pharmaceutical products.They have to comply with the relevant requirements on safety, quality and efficacy, and must be registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Hong Kong before they can be put up for sale or distribution in Hong Kong.Under the same ordinance, nicotine is categorised as Part 1 poison which can only be legally possessed or sold by licensed medicine dealers, including “licensed wholesale dealers” and “authorised sellers of poisons”. Illegal possession or sale of Part 1 poisons or unregistered pharmaceutical products is an offence.Any person convicted of the offence is liable to a maximum fine of $100,000 and imprisonment up to two years.

In addition, under section 3 of the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance (Cap. 371), no person is allowed to smoke or carry a lighted cigarette, cigar or pipe in a no-smoking area, and “smoke” is defined as “inhaling and expelling the smoke of tobacco or other substance .”As such, smoking of e-cigarettes or similar products in a statutory no-smoking area is an offence.

We are discussing the legislative arrangements with relevant departments. It is expected that the amendment bill, which aims to completely prohibit the import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertising of e-cigarettes, will be introduced for the scrutiny of the Legislative Council in 2016-17.

(2)The legislative proposal to regulate e-cigarettes being considered by the Government will apply to all sale activities of e-cigarettes, whether they are conducted physically or online.The Department of Health (DH) has put in place an established mechanism to monitor the drugs supplied on the market (including the Internet).The DH will carry out investigations upon receiving information about suspected illegal possession or sale of unregistered pharmaceutical products or Part 1 poisons, and take joint actions with the Police or make test purchases where necessary. Legal actions will be taken if any irregularities are detected.

(3)We note that other jurisdictions such as Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom and a few other countries have planned / adopted measures to either regulate or completely prohibit the import, distribution and sale of e-cigarettes. We will study in details the regulatory approaches adopted by different jurisdictions and formulate a suitable tobacco control policy in the light of the actual situation in Hong Kong.

(4)The Tobacco Control Office (TCO) of the DH has, by producing and broadcasting more new TV and radio Announcements in the Public Interest, stepped up publicity to increase public awareness of the potential harm in using e-cigarettes.The TCO has also produced information leaflets and posters, and uploaded the relevant information to its website for reference of the public and healthcare personnel.To discourage the use of e-cigarettes among young people, the TCO has also strengthened education on the potential harm of e-cigarettes.By sending letters, promotional leaflets and posters to all primary and secondary schools in the territory, the TCO has advised schools to remind their students not to use e-cigarettes.In collaboration with various non-governmental organisations, the TCO also promotes smoke-free lifestyle and disseminates the message of abstaining from e-cigarettes in kindergartens as well as primary and secondary schools.The Government will continue its health education work to prevent the general public and students from starting to use e-cigarettes.

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