MANILA, Philippines, June 15, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Asian consumer advocacy groups and tobacco harm reduction advocates have welcomed Hong Kong Legislative Council's (Legco) decision to suspend discussions on the proposed ban on vaping products, saying this will provide smokers with safer smoke-free alternatives.
The Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) is referring to the announcement of Legco's Bills Committee on Smoking that it ceased discussions over the proposed ban on electronic cigarettes, heat-not-burn tobacco products (HTPs) and other electronic nicotine delivery systems on June 2.
The committee ended its work after nine meetings, including three public hearings, since it was established in March 2019 to tackle the bill that aimed to amend the Smoking Ordinance and impose a blanket ban on vaping or the use of e-cigarettes, HTPs and the likes.
Hong Kong's vaping ban was strongly opposed by some members of the committee who cited scientific studies showing that e-cigarettes, HTPs and the likes have much lower levels of toxicants compared to combustible cigarettes.
IQOSER, a heated tobacco concern group in Hong Kong, said the end of discussions on the proposed ban on HTPs could hopefully bring lawmakers' attention to the more important task of addressing the smoking problem. "Smoking incidence remains at more than 10 percent in Hong Kong, which means a tenth of our population is exposed to the health risks brought about by toxicants found in tar, the by-product of tobacco smoke," said Joe Lo of IQOSER, a member of CAPHRA.
It has been known for decades that tar, and carcinogens found in tobacco smoke, cause the death and disease associated with smoking, and not nicotine. Unlike combustible cigarettes which are being linked to 20,000 deaths a day globally, THR products do not produce smoke as they deliver nicotine by heating, and not burning tobacco.
"As we have been saying all along, nicotine is not the problem, but the smoke, which is responsible for thousands of deaths globally each day. Unlike combustible tobacco, e-cigarettes and HTPs do not involve combustion or burning, because they only heat tobacco to a certain degree that is not harmful to humans," said Lo.
Lo said with the proposed ban out of the picture, smokers will have access to safer smoke-free alternatives such as HTPs and e-cigarettes that are 95-percent less harmful than tobacco. "We now have more than 13,100 users of such products in Hong Kong who don't have to switch back to conventional cigarettes."
"Instead of a ban, the regulation of HTPs and e-cigarettes is the key to prevent the youth from accessing these technology-aided products. We hope that the next Legco discussion will focus on regulation of HTPs and e-cigarettes to meet international standards."
CAPHRA said these smoke-free nicotine products are considered a part of tobacco harm reduction—a public health strategy which aims to provide alternatives to reduce risks caused by smoking cigarettes.
Nancy Loucas, Executive Coordinator of CAPHRA, noted that Hong Kong, like Japan and Korea, has a high number of former smokers who have switched to HTPs. "H," she said.
"It was pleasing to see that some of the officials involved in the process to decide the fate of the products strongly opposed the ban based on science that proves that HTPs have a lower level of toxicants compared to cigarettes, whilst addressing the concerns of creating black market in illicit trade in the products," Loucas said.
Loucas, however, said that in Hong Kong, many heated tobacco users were forced back to combustible tobacco because of the inability to access the product in the past year. "Others, with the means, have risked being caught buying through illicit channels. Legislators such as Peter Shui, Raymond Chan and Cheng Chunt-tai, have repeatedly argued that a ban was neither logical nor feasible. More importantly, all three pointed out that adult smokers should not be deprived of the right to choose tobacco harm reduction," she said.
Jagannath Sarangapani, director of the Association of Vapers India (AVI), said Hong Kong Legco's decision should encourage other countries such as India to look at the merits of e-cigarettes as less harmful alternatives to smoking. "Vaping has helped millions of smokers quit. Given the alternatives, smokers will always prefer the less harmful ones. India which has the second-largest population of tobacco users should also lift the ban on these products and promote access to risk-reduced alternatives to prevent 1 million smoking-related deaths each year," he said.
Asa Ace Saligupta, who runs consumer group ENDS Cigarette Smoke Thailand, said the country should follow the lead of Hong Kong in putting to rest the discussions on vaping ban. "Lifting the ban on e-cigarettes, HTPs and the likes will provide Thai smokers representing more than 20 percent of our population an opportunity to switch to reduced-risk alternatives. At present, nearly 40 percent of Thai males are at risk of suffering from illnesses caused by the smoking epidemic," he said.
Stephanie Thuesen, director of stakeholder engagement at The Progressive Public Health Alliance, said any restrictive policy on e-cigarettes and HTPs will exacerbate the smoking problem as this will discourage smokers from switching to reduced-risk alternatives. "Tobacco harm reduction should be viewed as a progressive health policy by all countries to put an end to the smoking problem," she said.
Kulthida Maneechote of SmokeFree4Life campaign asked tobacco harm reduction advocates and vapers to unite against bans and restrictive policies imposed by countries based on alleged lies fed by the World Health Organization to deprive smokers of less harmful alternatives.
"Let us challenge the fallacies and unscientific guidelines being spread by the World Health Organization on electronic cigarettes especially with the upcoming WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in November this year. If left unchallenged, e-cigarettes might be banned by governments altogether. This will put many smokers at risk of not being able to choose a better alternative," she said.
SmokeFree4Life is a campaign that aims to unite the voices of smokers and ex-smokers to rally against the false guidelines on electronic cigarettes coming from the WHO and its upcoming FCTC.
The Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) is an alliance of consumer organizations from Australia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand that aims to educate, advocate and represent the right of adult alternative nicotine consumers to access and use of products that reduce harm from tobacco use.
Jena F. Fetalino