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Revamped tobacco law a burning issue

Hong Kong needs to revamp its tobacco laws to deal with new tobacco and nicotine products, business and public health experts say.

But while business wants a “coordinated” regulatory approach, experts say the government should ban all new products.

Regulations on e-cigarettes in Hong Kong are still pending, while tobacco companies are planning to bring in “heat not burn” products, which they say carry a “reduced risk” when compared with traditional cigarettes.

Philip Morris is hoping to introduce a new product to Hong Kong, one that swept Japan within two years of its initial launch with an estimated 4.1 percent of the market share.

The product is different from traditional cigarettes in that it does not involve burning – users put the specially designed tobacco sticks into a holder which heats it up to about 300 degrees Celsius to generate a nicotine- containing aerosol.

The lit end of a cigarette can reach temperatures of up to 800 degrees, and the high temperature sparks the combustion process that breaks down tobacco into more than 7,000 types of chemicals, many of which are harmful or potentially harmful compounds, said Nveed Chaudhary, scientific communications manager of Philip Morris International.

Heated by a comparatively low temperature, the aerosol of the “heat not burn” product is 90 to 95 percent less toxic than the smoke of traditional cigarettes, Chaudhary said.

James Arnold, external affairs director for reduced risk products at Philip Morris Asia, said although the products can be sold under existing laws, the outdated product classification made it difficult for the product to fit into existing regulations, such as reporting duty and putting on the right health warning labels.

Daniel Ho Sai-yin, an associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, said: “We should say ‘no’ to the new tobacco products.”

Instead of plugging the holes every time a new tobacco product comes out, the government should ban them all, he said.

“We cannot be so naive to assume that only the smokers will switch to the ‘heat not burn’ products,” Ho said, adding that the products may appeal to youths and those who have already quit smoking. Resources should be spent to control existing products, by increasing tobacco tax and a makeover of cigarette packaging.

“There is no safe level for harmful substances,” a Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health spokesman said, accusing the tobacco companies of trying to encourage smoking with the new products.

A Food and Health Bureau spokesman said: “We will closely monitor the development and devise our legislative proposal accordingly.”

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