• August 5, 2020

Vapor pressure building

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council has begun to debate a proposal to regulate vaping and heat-not-burn (HNB) products because of a push by pro-liberalization members including Helena Wong, according to a story by Alex Frew McMillan for Nikkei Inc.

Vaping and HNB products occupy a gray regulatory region in Hong Kong, which means that they are not readily available to people without access to overseas sources.

Despite this, they seem to have a big following.

As Council discussions began in June on the proposal, supporters presented Wong with a petition bearing 10,000 signatures. And Peter Shiu, who represents the retail and wholesale trade in the legislature, was quoted as saying that 10 percent of Hong Kong’s 600,000 smokers had switched to alternatives.

The government however is guarded about the legalization proposal. The secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said in June that her department was “very concerned about the existence of e-cigarettes … [because] there are many unknown constituents or components,” some of which had been shown to be harmful. There had been little to no third-party research in Asia on their health effects.

McMillan reported that in much of Asia-Pacific, the sale of vaping and/or HNB devices was either illegal or, as in Hong Kong, occupied a regulatory gray area that kept them off store shelves. Now with users on the rise, consumers were joining together to pressure the authorities for explicit legalization on what they felt were healthier alternatives to traditional cigarettes. And they were starting to have some political impact.

In the past three years, consumers had formed vape-advocacy organizations in Australia, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand. And the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations, an umbrella group, was lobbying for change in places including Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan. Its Asian members had gathered last December in Bangkok to plan a concerted lobbying effort.

“There was an unprecedented feeling among delegates that they are no longer alone, that they are part of a regional and even global movement for change,” said Nancy Sutthoff, the president of INNCO’s board.

And help might come from an unlikely place – Australia, where laws differ from state to state but where, in effect, the sale of e-liquids containing nicotine is either banned or heavily restricted.

This is because Australian lawmakers are themselves under pressure now that New Zealand and Canada have both legalized vaping. “These are countries we compare ourselves with,” said Colin Mendelsohn, associate professor of public health and community medicine at the University of New South Wales and chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association. “If Australia does make progress in this area, it will be very influential to other Asian countries. Drug policy in Australia has been very instrumental in Asia.”

Mendelsohn went on to say that allowing smoking and banning vaping was costing lives. “The government just needs to get out of the way and let people get on with leading their lives, as long as they are not harming anyone else,” he said.