Hong Kong’s government has officially banned the sale and manufacture of all cigarette alternatives, including vapes, e-cigarettes, e-liquids, heat tobacco products, and herbal cigarettes. This marks the 47th territory in China to ban these products.
“From April 30, 2022, no person may import, promote, manufacture, sell, or possess for commercial purposes alternative smoking products, including electronic smoking products, heated tobacco products, and herbal cigarettes,” the official Tobacco Control Legislation states.
Those found in breach of this new law are subject to the penalties of fines of HK$50,000 (roughly US$6,370), as well as six months’ imprisonment.
Those in Hong Kong are still able to possess and use vape and smoking alternative products after the ban. Travelers will not be allowed to import personal-use devices from the date of implementation of the law.
The law came to pass roughly six years after the inception of the idea, and after five years of deliberation between parties.
The action has left vape enthusiasts and users of alternative smoking methods stockpiling just prior to the decision. For those who were unable for whatever reason to stockpile their favorite supplies, options are limited, while legal options are non-existent.
The reason for the banning of smoking alternatives is, of course, underage users. Lawmakers like Elizabeth Quat Pui-Fan have openly blamed tobacco and vape manufacturers for making products with high appeal to the youth, claiming the products are often marketed as “trendy and fashionable”.
What’s Next for Hong Kong Vapers?
In Hong Kong and surrounding China, there is almost no distinction between actual cigarette smoking and vaping and other smoking alternatives in the eyes of lawmakers. Their goal to drop the prevalence of smoking means targeting vaping and other alternatives as well.
The idea of banning smoking alternatives, but not cigarettes, in order to bolster progress in the reduction of smoking prevalence, is at best, an abstract one.
News of the incoming law meant thousands of vaping enthusiasts began stockpiling as much as they could to hold off the effects of the ban. When these stockpiles run out, vapers will face three options: quit vaping altogether, turn to traditional cigarettes, or break the law by way of smuggling or purchasing from an emerging black market.
A survey from Hong Kong Newspaper Hawker Association concluded that nearly 200,000 residents of Hong Kong use alternative smoking products. Approximately 700 of these citizens responded to a poll from the association, stating that they would return to traditional cigarette smoking once the ban takes place. It is likely this is a shared sentiment with the remainder.
The potential for this illicit trade is a result of Hong Kong’s geographical location in proximity to Shenzhen, China. This city is one of the largest manufacturers of all vaping products in the entire world.
It is likely that sharing a border with such a massive contributor to the global vaping market will be extremely tempting for those wanting to capitalize on the situation financially or to further their own stock of vaping products and smoking alternatives.
“Hong Kong Customs conducts large-scale operation to combat illicit heat-not-burn products, nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes and electronic cigarette oil,” the Hong Kong Press Releases tweeted earlier this week.
Through these operations, customs officials claim there have been roughly 13 arrests relating to the new laws already.
“About 2.63 million suspected illicit [heated tobacco products], about 190,000 suspected nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes, and about 5,000 milliliters of suspected nicotine-containing electronic cigarette oil were seized with an estimated market value of about $15 million,” a press release stated.
Do Vape Bans Actually Work?
In terms of tobacco harm reduction, vape bans absolutely do not work. Extrapolating the responses from the small group of 700, it is highly likely there will be a surge in the use of traditional cigarette smoking as a direct result of the ban.
While other countries are slowly touting the benefits of vaping to decrease smoking prevalence, bans like these offer little to no benefit. It is clear that the Hong Kong lawmakers have either been misinformed about or simply ignored the potential of vaping and smoking alternatives for true smoking cessation.
One of the lawmakers, Sophia Chan, made clear the viewpoint she and the other deciding politicians hold on the relationship between smoking and vaping. She expressed that when smokers become addicted to tobacco products, they need to be deprived of their free will in an effort to achieve smoking cessation.
The belief that smokers need to be treated as strongly as addicts with no free will is a worrying premise at best. Furthermore, addicts of this nature are typically not concerned with the legality of their actions in order to ascertain their desired drug.
Other countries that have already implemented bans have also demonstrated a lack of effectiveness in these bans to reduce smoking prevalence.
The ban on smoking alternatives has begun in Hong Kong as of April 30, 2022. Products like e-cigarettes, vape juice, herbal cigarettes, and heat-not-burn devices all fall under the umbrella of this ban. Breach of this law will see citizens and travelers facing a stiff fine of up to HK$50,000 and six months’ imprisonment.
Despite these penalties, customs officials and local authorities have already seen the potential emergence of an illicit trade market as a result of the ban. The ban also saw a massive spike in the sale of vape products for vapers attempting to stockpile prior to the implementation of the new law.