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LCQ5: Regulation of electronic cigarette

     Following is a question by the Hon Kwok Wai-keung and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (October 22):


     It has been reported that there has been a trend in recent years that the craze for electronic cigarette (EC) smoking has spread to Hong Kong from overseas.  It has also been reported that since ECs are of unknown composition, it is difficult to gauge their impact on the smokers' health, including the addictive effect.  In addition, the regulation on the sale of EC products in Hong Kong is so lax that underage persons can easily purchase various kinds of EC products.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of EC products currently available on the Hong Kong market which have been registered under the relevant legislation; the conditions to be met before such products can be registered; whether the authorities conducted any survey in the past three years on the sale and use of ECs in Hong Kong; if so, of the outcome; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) whether the relevant government departments instituted prosecution against offences involving EC products in the past three years; if so, of the number of prosecution cases and the major charges laid; and

(3) as the World Health Organization has proposed to bring ECs under regulation, whether the authorities will consider stepping up the regulation of EC products, including extending the application of the relevant provisions of the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance to ECs, introducing legislation to require the listing of the composition of EC products on their packaging, and prohibiting the sale of ECs to underage persons?



     According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), electronic cigarette (EC) is an important issue faced by governments and tobacco control organisations around the world in recent years.  Products commonly known as EC are actually a kind of electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) which by heating the solution therein delivers an aerosol for users to inhale.  The main constituents of the solution include nicotine (if present), propylene glycol, and possibly glycerol and flavouring agents.  Although the appearance of some ENDS look like their conventional tobacco counterparts (e.g. cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, pipes or hookahs), they can also take the form of other ordinary items such as pens, USB memory sticks and other larger cylindrical or rectangular devices.  

     My main reply to the question raised by the Honourable Kwok is as follows:

(1) According to the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap. 138), if EC contains more than 0.1% of nicotine, it is categorised as a Part I poison.  EC containing nicotine are considered pharmaceutical products and subject to the requirements of the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance on safety, quality and efficacy.  They should also be registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Hong Kong before they can be put up for sale and distribution.  The Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance provides that only licensed traders, including "wholesaler of poisons" and "authorised sellers of poisons", can legally possess or sell Part I poisons.  Illegal possession or sale of Part I poisons or unregistered pharmaceutical products constitutes an offence.  The maximum penalty for each offence on conviction is a fine of $100,000 and two years' imprisonment.

     According to records, there are currently no nicotine-containing EC products registered as pharmaceutical products in Hong Kong.  Neither has the Department of Health (DH) received any application for import of EC products containing nicotine for sale in Hong Kong.
     In addition, under section 3 of the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance (Cap. 371), no person shall smoke or carry a lighted cigarette, cigar or pipe in a no-smoking area, and "smoke" is defined as "inhaling and expelling the smoke of tobacco or other substance."  As such, smoking of EC or similar products in a statutory no-smoking area constitutes an offence.

     According to the school-based survey on smoking conducted by the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong in 2012-13, about 1 per cent of secondary school students had used EC.  In order to gain a more in-depth understanding of the use of EC in Hong Kong, we will include in the next round of Thematic Household Survey on the pattern of smoking in Hong Kong a series of questions relating to EC.

(2) From 2012 to June 2014, the DH received 35 complaints concerning EC, with one convicted case of illegal sale of unregistered pharmaceutical products involving nicotine-containing EC in the same period.  The DH is concerned about the sale of EC on the Internet or in stores, and will take follow-up actions and conduct investigations.  Appropriate legal actions will be taken where they are evidences indicating sale of nicotine-containing EC.  

     Since 2011, Tobacco Control Inspectors of the DH have issued fixed penalty notices of $1,500 to two people who smoked EC in statutory no-smoking areas.    

(3) The DH is concerned and has been monitoring the trend for EC, particularly on promotion targeting at the youth.  Following a review of the scientific evidence and some regulatory options of ENDS, the WHO compiled a report and put forth suggestions for regulatory control of EC or related products in certain suggested areas, including:

(a) health claims;
(b) use of ENDS in public places;
(c) advertising, promotion and sponsorship;
(d) protection from vested commercial interests;
(e) product design and information;
(f) health warnings; and
(g) sale to minors.

     Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control just met in mid-October this year to discuss and examine the report.  We will continue to keep in view closely further developments and recommendations in this regard and take appropriate follow-up actions to protect public health.

Ends/Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Issued at HKT 15:41


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