Hong Kong

A recent TV showing of the Hong Kong Rugby 7s tournament was introduced by a commentator as being broadcast from a place “where the world comes to party”, but a recent development from the country’s government would suggest that this is poor marketing of Hong Kong for the unwary traveller.

The Legislative Council of Hong Kong – after initially toying with the idea of regulating e-cigarettes sensibly – instead made an about-turn and has now produced a draft law which will criminalise possession of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco. In short, anyone caught vaping could be facing huge fines and possibly a jail term of up to 6 months.

The NNA submitted a response to the consultation for this draft bill which you can read here, but considering the severity of the punishment Hong Kong is proposing for anyone who chooses to quit smoking using e-cigarettes, we felt it was worth writing about the clear danger that UK vaping citizens may face if planning to visit.

The proposed Hong Kong law is based on the Thailand model where an internet star was brutally arrested for possession of e-liquid in 2017 and a French tourist was arrested, fined, jailed and deported for merely holding an e-cigarette in February.

Why Hong Kong has decided to go down this route when, in enlightened democracies, the direction of travel has been to relax regulations on harm reduction products rather than criminalise them is anyone’s guess. It does, though, impact on how UK citizens should view Hong Kong as a tourist destination.

Our government advises that anyone visiting Thailand should be aware that they could be imprisoned if they bring their device to the country, and we expect that similar guidance will be forthcoming from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office if Hong Kong decides to proceed with its draconian proposals.

According to the Hong Kong Tourist Board, last year there were approximately 570,000 leisure visitors from the UK and current statistics say that around 6 per cent of those will be vapers. That is around 35,000 who would be at risk of being jailed simply for following advice to switch to e-cigarettes on the advice of public health authorities in this country. In fact, probably more than that considering uptake of e-cigarettes is more amongst middle class smokers who are more able to afford a trip to an exotic location such as Hong Kong.

As anyone who understands how vaping works will know, reduced risk products rely on a regular low level of nicotine being delivered to the user to replace a large blast of nicotine from regular cigarettes. The simple fact is that under these plans, vapers would visit Hong Kong at their peril with their e-cigarette and risk imprisonment or leave their vaping device at home and get their nicotine from conventional cigarettes, which will still be available everywhere, and perfectly legal to smoke.

Our advice, if you are one of the 35,000 or more vapers, would be simply to choose an alternative destination than Hong Kong. There are many others you could visit which will not treat you like a criminal for making a healthier choice in accordance with the UK government’s Tobacco Control Plan and the annual Stoptober campaign.

It is curious to note that the tourist figures also show that Hong Kong annually receives more than 50 million visitors from China where e-cigarettes were invented; more than 2.5 million from Japan and Korea where reduced risk products are incredibly popular, and more than 1.2 million from the USA where vaping is hugely prevalent. If Hong Kong’s ill-judged proposals result in concrete legislation, we could be seeing a lot of stories about tourists being jailed for no valid reason. If they start arresting swaths of visitors from mainland China, one can only imagine the consequences that might entail.

The Legislative Council may well believe that they are doing the right thing with their proposals, but criminalising possession of products designed to help smokers quit tobacco is in direct contrast to their stated aim to 'discourage smoking, contain the proliferation of tobacco use and minimise the impact of passive smoking on the public'.

If they had said they wanted to decimate their tourist industry, it would have made much more sense. If this law passes, vapers would be best served by just not going there.