News: Hong Kong school principals demand full e-cigarettes ban
Ten head teachers’ groups have joined forces to urge the Hong Kong government to impose an outright ban on new tobacco products (NTPs) such as electronic cigarettes after primary school children were spotted using the devices.
The rare joint appeal was made on Monday as a proposed bill, which forbids the sale and related activities of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, is still stuck in the Legislative Council.
The principals said youngsters who dabbled in alternative forms of smoking were more likely to try conventional cigarettes, as they called for broader legislation that specifically outlawed the use of such products.
The principals, in their call for action, urged authorities to work towards turning Hong Kong into a smoke-free city by first targeting new smoking products. They cited a University of Hong Kong study in April, which found that about 1,500 primary school and 7,500 secondary school students had used heated tobacco products between 2018 and 2019. Their appeal also pointed to an alarming trend in young people picking up smoking habits.
“As educators, we don’t want to see any children use any type of tobacco products,” said Lin Chun-pong, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools.
Despite a consensus among pro-establishment lawmakers on banning e-cigarettes, some representing commercial and industrial sectors have questioned the validity of outlawing heated tobacco while continuing to allow the sale of standard cigarettes, which they describe as more harmful.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong, chairman of the smoking amendment bill committee, said trade representatives and legislators opposed the bill because they saw heated tobacco products as the lesser of two evils.
“It is legal to import and sell cigarettes in Hong Kong, and yet illicit cigarettes can be a big issue. What would happen if authorities ban the import and sale of heated tobacco products?” he said.
“Officials said these alternatives were to blame for causing young people to smoke. But the biggest factors were the influence of family members and peer pressure. Shouldn’t the government do more in promoting these adverse effects too?”
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- Should e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products be in the same category as conventional cigarettes? Why or why not?
- From News, identify and elaborate on ONE belief the school principals have about how new tobacco products will affect young people. Based on your answer, explain to what extent is their viewpoint reflected in Issue 1 and Issue 2.
A proposed bill in Hong Kong is targeting NTPs, such as electronic cigarettes.
A bill that would amend the Smoking Ordinance by targeting NTPs was introduced in February 2019 to outlaw the importation, production, distribution, sales and promotion – but not consumption – of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products.
Under the proposed law, it will still be legal to use NTPs, though doing so in non-smoking areas will be subject to a fixed penalty of HK$1,500 or a court-imposed fine of HK$5,000.
In addition, anyone who brings in, imports, makes, sells, distributes or promotes new smoking products – including e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and herbal cigarettes – could be subject to a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$50,000 if convicted.
Possession of the products or any part of them for the purpose of manufacturing, sale or distribution will be subject to the same penalty. Distribution in the form of a prize or gift will also be prohibited, while cargo and people in transit will be exempted.
The proposal was among four bills that Legco stopped working on last June, citing a lack of time before the four-year legislative term was due to end a month later.
But after Beijing endorsed the Hong Kong government’s request to extend the Legco term by a year, a new bills committee was set up last November. It last met in June 2021 to discuss the bill.
According to the Food and Health Bureau, the government plans to secure passage of the bill within the current Legco term, which will end in October.
If the bill is passed, Hong Kong will have prohibitions in place for alternative smoking products. Sales of e-cigarettes are currently banned in 30 jurisdictions worldwide, including Macau and Singapore.
Issue 1: Delays to e-cigarette sales ban in Hong Kong leading teens to adopt smoking habits, campaigners warn
Delays to Hong Kong legislation banning sales of e-cigarettes have allowed them to become further entrenched in young people’s lives, according to anti-smoking campaigners.
Nearly 86 per cent of 283 current smokers aged 25 or below tried e-cigarettes or heated tobacco products in 2019 to 2020, according to a survey released in April by Youth Quitline, a smoking cessation hotline set up by the University of Hong Kong (HKU). The proportion has increased for the third straight year, from 73 per cent in 2018 to 2019 and 57 per cent the previous year.
Among the 733 young smokers covered in the Youth Quitline surveys over the past three years, 48 per cent agreed the electronic devices were more convenient to use and easier to obtain than traditional cigarettes, with 49 per cent attracted by the products’ flavours.
“The [Covid-19] pandemic also triggered more young people to shift from traditional tobacco to e-cigarettes, because when they cannot go outside, it’s easier to smoke e-cigarettes at home without being noticed by their families,” said Dr William Li Ho-cheung, director of the cessation programme and associate professor at HKU’s school of nursing.
According to Li, the trend signals the tightening grip that NTPs have on young smokers in Hong Kong.
“Many youngsters started smoking these new tobacco [products] out of curiosity, peer influence, or the misconceptions that these alternatives are less harmful, and they can use them to quit traditional tobacco,” Li said.
“Increased online marketing from e-cigarettes and heated tobacco companies, no regulation over underage buyers, and cheaper pricing all contributed to the surge in the use of the NTPs,” Li added.
In response to the survey, the Heated Tobacco Concern Group, formed by a group of adult smokers, said the government should use legislation to regulate rather than outlaw NTPs, saying that choosing whether to smoke was a personal matter.
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- Explain the difference in attitude towards NTPs between anti-smoking campaigners and the Heated Tobacco Concern Group.
- “E-cigarettes are creating new addicts rather than saving smokers.” How might the survey in Issue 1 and the study in News support this statement?
- Describe the findings as shown in the chart above.
- How do they compare to the survey results in Issue 1?
- How might the different people in the Quote Box below use the data in this chart and Issue 1 to justify their viewpoints about e-cigarettes and other NTPs?
“Various international health authorities, including the World Health Organization, have clearly pinpointed the health risks of these alternative smoking products, and reiterated that they do not reduce the levels of harm and can never be an alternative to cigarettes.”
– Vienna Lai, executive director of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health
“There is absolutely no history of harm with vaporisation devices. Studies have found this product is at least 95 per cent less harmful than conventional tobacco. If you are trying to lower health care costs and look after the population, why wouldn’t you want people to have the choice between e-cigarettes and tobacco?”
– Ray Story, president of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette, Association who has lobbied in Hong Kong for rules on e-cigarettes to be relaxed
“Electronic nicotine delivery systems … and novel tobacco products are promoted as healthier alternatives to smoking by their manufacturers … and their supporters. Until independent research shows the real risk profile of these products, governments should be cautious. Science-based evidence, not marketing, should guide their actions.”
– Dr Adriana Blanco Marquizo, head of the convention secretariat WHO, in the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2021
Issue 2: WHO sounds the alarm on e-cigarettes
Electronic cigarettes and similar devices are dangerous to health and must be regulated to curb the tobacco industry’s “criminal” tactics to get young people hooked on nicotine, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.
This comes after the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2021 – which focused on new and emerging products – was published last month. The UN health agency’s eighth tobacco report said electronic nicotine delivery systems (Ends) should be tightly regulated for maximum public health protection.
“Nicotine is highly addictive. Electronic nicotine delivery systems are harmful, and must be better regulated,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“Where they are not banned, governments should adopt appropriate policies to protect their populations from the harms of Ends, and to prevent their uptake by children, adolescents and other vulnerable groups,” he added.
The report also revealed Ends manufacturers often target youth with reassuring statements and tantalising flavours – the document listed 16,000. Only 32 countries have banned the sale of Ends, while 79 partially prohibit or regulate its use or sale, and 84 countries do not regulate or restrict them in any way.
Dr Vinayak Prasad, who heads the WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, said targeting children “with toxic and poisonous products is a criminal action”.
“It’s the most criminal act. And it’s a human rights violation. They run the risk of being addicted for the rest of their lives,” he added.
Former mayor of the US state of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and the WHO’s global ambassador for non-communicable diseases, said: “As cigarette sales have fallen, tobacco companies have been aggressively marketing new products – like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products – and lobbied governments to limit their regulation. Their goal is simple: to hook another generation on nicotine. We can’t let that happen.”
Agence France-Presse, Reuters
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- Using Issue 2, Issue 1 and your own knowledge, list TWO marketing tactics e-cigarette companies use to target youth in Hong Kong.
- Based on your answers above, explain how regulations can be enforced on these marketing tactics so as to deter teens from trying NTPs.
conventional cigarette: a small tube of thin paper filled with pieces of cut tobacco that is used for smoking
e-cigarette: also called an e-cig, vape, or electronic nicotine delivery system (Ends). It is an electronic device that allows users to breathe in nicotine – an addictive drug in tobacco – using vapour rather than smoke (see graphic). Bystanders can also breathe in the aerosol when the user exhales.
heated tobacco product: a device that heats real tobacco within a specific temperature range, using an electronic heat-control system to prevent it from burning (see graphic). Users inhale the nicotine into their lungs.
herbal cigarette: a type of cigarette that contains a mixture of flowers, herbs, and other natural ingredients. Even though herbal cigarettes do not contain tobacco or nicotine, they give off tar, particulates and carbon monoxide when lighted up, which can cause serious health problems.
Smoking Ordinance: a law enacted in Hong Kong in 1982 that banned smoking and regulated sales of tobacco products. It bans smoking in all indoor areas of workplaces, restaurants and other public places, as well as certain outdoor areas, including open areas of schools, leisure facilities and public transport facilities. Individuals who smoke or carry a lighted cigarette, cigar or pipe in statutory no-smoking areas are liable to a fixed penalty of HK$1,500. Advertising and promoting tobacco products are also prohibited.
tobacco: a plant grown for its leaves, which are dried and fermented before being used in tobacco products. Tobacco contains an addictive drug, nicotine, and creates other potentially harmful chemicals when it is burned.