September 21 2016

The looming threat of a total e-cigarette ban in Hong Kong has prompted Julian Morris, the Vice President of US based think tank, Reason Foundation, to petition the Hong Kong government to allow vaping so that lives can be saved.

In early September this year, he presented a new research paper, The Vapour Revolution: How bottom-up innovation is saving lives, at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. Co-written by Dr Amir Ullah Khan, the paper suggests that the Hong Kong government may be putting the lives of Hong Kong’s more than 600,000 smokers at risk by denying them a less harmful option to quit smoking.

Hong Kong is planning a e-cigarette ban despite new studies from the UK showing that they are 95% less harmful than tobacco. This ban was prompted by a study commissioned by the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health and conducted by Baptist University. The study shockingly claims that “electronic cigarettes were found to contain one million times more cancer-causing substances than outdoor air”. This is a claim that’s even more astounding considering Hong Kong’s reputation for poor air quality that far exceeds WHO safe levels.

The Reason Foundation believe that vaping could eliminate smoking in Hong Kong within the next 30 years. The document cites previous research showing that, when legally available, vaping displaces smoking and does not promote it.

Morris believes that such a switch “could save 8 of 10 billion life-years currently at risk from smoking”. As he said, “vaping is far, far safer than smoking — and has the potential to replace it, if consumers are given the choice.”

And since smoke is a defining characteristic of a cigarette and vape products emit no smoke, Morris says the term “e-cigarette” is misleading and avoids it. He says that vape products, including those that contain nicotine, “should be classified as consumer products.” Rather than banned, such devices should, “be easily accessible and seen as an alternative to cigarettes.”

Morris also provided examples from countries such as the US, France and UK, where vape products can be easily bought in convenience and drug stores. He added that “governments should avoid imposing specific taxes on vape products. Since they are far safer than cigarettes, there is no good reason to impose taxes that might discourage people from switching.”

He stated that in countries where vape products have been regulated as consumer products there has been rapid innovation and as a result, “The quality of the devices and liquids have been improving and their cost falling. This has contributed to a significant increase in use of vape products. At the same time, there is very robust evidence that the vast majority of people who regularly use vape devices are reducing or quitting smoking.”

Mr Morris concluded, “Hong Kong currently prohibits the sale of nicotine-containing vape products. But it permits far deadlier cigarettes. That makes no sense. If people are allowed to vape with nicotine — a substance that is not classified as a carcinogen as is not a significant cause of heart disease — many will switch from a product that is likely to cut their life expectancy by 10 years to a product that might, at most, cut it by a few months. As a result, the lives of hundreds of thousands of HK residents will be extended and improved.”