- Electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is the most common prototype of electronic nicotine delivery systems. The e-cigarette heats up a cartridge of solution and produce vapour inhaled by the user.
- The solution usually contains nicotine (if any), propylene glycol, glycerin, and flavourings.
- The e-cigarette solution and emissions contain other chemicals, some of them are considered to be toxicants.
- Some e-cigarettes look like tobacco products (e.g. cigarettes, cigars, pipes or shishas). Some may be produced in the form of everyday items such as pens and USB memory sticks.
What is electronic cigarette
Prevalence of e-cigarettes use in Hong Kong
- According to the Tobacco Control Policy-related Survey 2015 conducted by COSH, it was found that 85.4% of respondents had heard of e-cigarettes.
- About 0.7% of respondents had ever used e-cigarettes.
- The current use rate of e-cigarettes among young smokers aged 15-19 years (15.8%) was significantly higher than that of smokers aged 30 years or above.
- The main reasons for e-cigarettes were curiosity and fashionable, instead of aiding smoking cessation.
- The global sales of e-cigarettes surged exponentially by over 120-fold to a total of US$3.5 billion in 2015 from US$20 million in 2008.
- Currently there are over 8,000 flavours of e-cigarettes in the global market targeting the youngsters who are curious and crave for novelties.
- Researches revealed that e-cigarettes contain toxic chemical substances like propylene glycol, glycerin and carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde which can bring health risks to human.
- COSH commissioned Hong Kong Baptist University to carry out a laboratory test on thirteen e-cigarettes. The test found that the e-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals including formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(“PAHs”) and poly-brominated diphenyl ethers (“PBDEs”), etc. Formaldehyde and PAHs are known carcinogens that are hazardous to health. PBDEs are associated with thyroid hormone disruption, reduction of fertility, affect fetal development.
- The Secondary School Smoking Survey 2012/13 conducted by the School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong found that e-cigarette users were more likely to have respiratory symptoms.
- Most e-cigarettes do not provide details on their ingredients and only address the variety of flavours. They are marketed as non-addictive, aid for smoking cessation, accredited and environmentally friendly which mislead consumers on their safety and attract the youth to use.
- E-cigarettes produce toxicants and carcinogens after heating in high temperature and vaporization. Risks of e-cigarettes should not be underrated.
- Some battery-activated heating element in e-cigarettes may be unsafe. There were cases of e-cigarette explosion during heating or charging reported in oversea countries.
- According to the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap 138) in Hong Kong, any e-cigarettes with nicotine are categorized as pharmaceutical products and must be registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Hong Kong before sale or distribution.
- According to the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance, no person shall smoke an e-cigarette in statutory no-smoking areas.
- Tobacco Control Policy-related Survey 2015 found that majority of respondents supported various regulatory measures on e-cigarettes including restrict sale to minors (93.9%), ban the use at smoke-free areas (81.5%), restrict sale of non-nicotine e-cigarettes (80.9%), regulate e-cigarettes as cigarettes (79.7%) and ban e-cigarettes publicity and ads (71.7%). Over half of the respondents (53.9%) supported all of these regulatory measures.
- Similar to the marketing strategies of traditional cigarettes in the past, e-cigarettes are promoted through different channels and celebrities are invited as spokespersons for the products which normalize smoking behaviour among the mass public, especially the children and the youth. Social media are also commonly used to reach the youngsters.
- Youngsters are the main target of the marketing strategies adopted by Hong Kong and overseas e-cigarette suppliers and sellers. The price is set at an affordable level for them.
- The flavours, designs and packaging of e-cigarettes are diverse. The flavours include fruits, soft drink and tobacco.
- Most e-cigarettes are sold on consignment at retail outlets and shopping centres specializing in trendy items, or through online platforms such as social media. It is very difficult to monitor the safety claims of products sold and verify the buyers’ ages at online platforms.
Global Trend on Regulation
- Insufficient evidence has been identified so far to support the claim that e-cigarettes help smokers kick the habit, says the World Health Organization (WHO). To safeguard the public against the potential harm of e-cigarettes, WHO urges countries to regulate e-cigarettes, as well as its advertising, promotion and sponsorship to minimize the risk of exposing the youngsters and never smokers to e-cigarettes.
- Currently thirteen countries have imposed a complete ban on e-cigarettes, including Singapore, Thailand and Brazil which is a global trend.