Vaping Ban Could Cloud Lam’s Legacy as Hong Kong’s CEO

Credit: Timothy S. Donahue

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s term may mostly be remembered for her role in the ban on the import and sale of e-cigarettes and other alternatives that has just become law. The ban, first proposed seven years ago, was watered down in 2018 to the permissive regulation that applies to tobacco products.

Opposition to the backdown from medical and education authorities prompted Lam to switch to proposing the full ban in her policy address that year, according to a story in the South China Morning Post. It took lawmakers until last October to pass legislation without exemptions and concessions of one kind or another. Evidence of the effect on consumption of e-cigarettes and the like is that the law has forced some shops selling these products to close.

The most persuasive argument against outlawing the “new tobacco products” was that they were a not so harmful alternative that helped nicotine addicts quit smoking tobacco and perhaps stop altogether. But health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee said many surveys that supported it were sponsored by tobacco companies.

Essentially the argument hinges on the lack of knowledge of the long-term effects of e-cigarettes and other alternatives, especially on those who begin smoking at a young age. The smoking rate in Hong Kong has fallen to about 10 percent of people aged 15 and above. Ultimately, the prospect of a non-smoking society seems dependent on youth breaking the generational cycle of addiction by not taking up the habit in the first place.

Lam announced in April that she would not seek reelection. Her successor is expected to be picked in May. Hong Kong media have reported this week that Chief Secretary John Lee, the city’s No. 2 leader, is likely to enter the race to succeed Lam.