“We have to help smokers not punish them,” says Heneage Mitchell, founder of factasia.org and member CAPHRA (Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates).
His comments were made as a panellist on Hong Kong’s current affairs radio show, Backchat. Up for discussion was the administration’s decision to further step-up efforts to reduce tobacco use, with the aim of achieving an overall smoking rate of 7.8% by 2025.
“This is the right track… but Hong Kong has really missed an opportunity to really give smokers the choices they need to successfully quit,” Mr Mitchell told the show.
Since April this year, safer nicotine products, such as vaping and heat-not-burn (HNB) products, have effectively been illegal in Hong Kong. Now Secretary for Food & Health, Sophia Chan, is planning to also impose stricter controls on tobacco use and sales, including wide-ranging smoking bans in public places.
Mr Mitchell says the administration’s own numbers clearly show a two-year correlation between the reduction of cigarette use and the rise in the use of harm reduced alternatives when they were previously more readily available in Hong Kong.
“When you look at the reduction in smoking rates, I was particularly struck by the fact that while there is a drop from 10.2% to 9.5% which is great, there has also been a surge of over 10,000 people who have taken up vaping,” he told the show.
Heneage Mitchell says by not providing safer, viable alternatives Hong Kong’s plan to reduce smoking will not be as successful as it could be. He believes the administration’s claim that the vaping ban is contributing to falling smoking rates is flawed.
“Hong Kong’s ban on less harmful nicotine products cannot be conflated at this point with a reduction in smoking. It is more likely that the uptick in vape product use is the reason that many Hong Kong residents have quit smoking, improving their health and the health of those close to them in the process,” he says.
Criminalizing former smokers who have found a path away from deadly cigarettes using these technologies, he believes, is only likely to push many of them back to smoking.
Factasia.org points to independent, peer-reviewed research which deems vaping 95% less harmful than tobacco and an effective off-ramp from smoking.
“Those whose lives have been saved and whose health has improved dramatically after switching to vaping products attest to the benefits of vaping loudly and decisively. Yes, protect the kids, of course, but not at the expense of the lives and health of adult smokers,” he says.
Rather than punitive bans, he believes, Hong Kong would be better served by adopting a Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) strategy where safer nicotine alternatives would be legally accessible to adults yet difficult for minors to obtain.
“The 70 or so countries which have regulated vaping have all seen their smoking rates plummet and the demise of conventional tobacco products. THR works. Bans don’t.
“Nearby Asia Pacific countries like The Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand are set to lift their failed vaping bans. If Hong Kong wants to achieve genuine smoking cessation success it needs to follow the significant scientific and human evidence,” says Heneage Mitchell.
To listen to the Backchat panel’s 30 May discussion on Hong Kong’s ‘anti-tobacco’ measures, visit https://www.rthk.hk/radio/radio3/programme/backchat?lang=en
Boasting nearly 15,000 testimonials, CAPHRA is calling on those who’ve quit cigarettes through smoke-free nicotine alternatives to tell their story on www.righttovape.org
For a free digital media repository on tobacco harm reduction in Asia Pacific – including media releases, images and graphics – please visit https://apthrmedia.org
factasia.org is an independent, not-for-profit, consumer-orientated, advocate for rational debate about – and sensible regulation of – the rights of adult citizens throughout the Asia Pacific region who choose to use tobacco or other nicotine products.
The Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Advocates (CAPHRA) is a regional alliance of consumer tobacco harm reduction advocacy organizations. Its mission is to educate, advocate and represent the right of adult alternative nicotine consumers to access and use of products that reduce harm from tobacco use.