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E-cigs firms call for regulation rather than ban

Undersecretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said last month the government is considering prohibiting the import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertising of e-cigarettes.

Under the current Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance, if an e-cigarette contains more than 0.1 percent of nicotine, it is categorized as a Part I poison. E-cigarettes containing nicotine are considered pharmaceutical products, and subject to the ordinance on safety, quality and efficacy.

The Asian Vape Association, formed by 10 e-cigarette companies in Hong Kong, claimed that a complete ban would create a black market and drive e-smokers back to conventional cigarettes.

The group is calling for a “balanced” regulatory approach, such as prohibiting sales to minors, imposing quality control standards, and ensuring that any reduced- risk-related information is substantiated.

“E-cigarettes are devices that do not contain tobacco leaf and have the ability to reduce the harm to smokers caused through heating and vaporizing a liquid solution,” association chairman Nav Lalji said.

Quoting a survey by a research company, Ipsos, from May to June last year, Lalji said nearly nine in 10 adult smokers agreed they should have access to products that are scientifically proven to reduce smoking.

The survey polled 414 Hongkongers aged over 18. Of these, 63 percent agreed that e-cigarettes represent a positive alternative to cigarettes, and 66 percent said they would consider switching if e-cigarettes were legal, met quality and safety standards, and were readily available.

According to a 2014 World Health Organization report, most electronic nicotine delivery system, or ENDS, products have not been tested by independent scientists, but the limited testing has revealed wide variations in the nature of the toxicity of contents and emissions.

“Short-term effects of ENDS use include eye and respiratory irritation caused by exposure to propylene glycol. Serious short-term health problems may occur but are very rare,” the report read.

Asked if he recognized e-cigarettes are somehow harmful to health, Lalji said: “There may or may not be potential risks. But it is definitely less than the [traditional] cigarettes.”

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