Results of the latest government survey have shown that smoking has become less and less prevalent in Hong Kong over the years. However, the government said that there is a need for e-cigarette regulation, after it was found that the product was growing increasingly popular and is used by students.

In 2015, there were 641,300 daily cigarette smokers, 83.9 percent being male and 16.1 percent female, according to the latest Thematic Household Survey Report of the Census and Statistics Department.

There is shown to be a continuous downward trend with smoking in Hong Kong; in 2015, smokers aged 15 or above made up 10.5 percent of the population, down from 10.7 percent in 2012. The percentage of teenage smokers, meaning those aged 15 to 19, also went down from 2 percent to 1.1 percent over the same period.

no smoking
No smoking sign in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikicommons.

Under-secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan said on Thursday at a press conference that the decreasing trend showed the effectiveness of the government’s tobacco control approach, which included legislation, taxation, law enforcement, health promotion and smoking cessation services. In the early 1980s, smokers had made up 23.3 percent of the population.

“Although our daily cigarette smoking prevalence continues to be one of the lowest around the world, we cannot afford complacency, especially in the face of the fact that the smoking prevalence of certain groups did not see any significant decrease. For example, the smoking prevalence of female remains at the level of 3 to 4 percent in the past 10 years,” she said.

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Department of Health Acting Head of Tobacco Control Office Eddie Sin, Sophia Chan, and Senior Medical Officer Dr Patrick Lo at the press conference

A survey conducted by the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong also found that smoking amongst primary school and secondary students had become less prevalent. However, it also showed that 2.6 percent of primary four to six students and 9 percent of secondary school students have smoked e-cigarettes before, while 1.3 percent of secondary school students currently still smoked e-cigarettes.

Chan said that the government was concerned about the use of e-cigarettes among students and that there were challenges posed by the increasing popularity of the product. “The government is therefore considering prohibiting import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertising of e-cigarettes through legislation with an aim to protect public health.

“We hope that the relevant amendment bill can be introduced into the Legislative Council soon. In the meantime, the government will continue to educate the public on the potential harms of e-cigarettes,” Chan said. The government will step up its efforts with smoking cessation services to bring the percentage of smokers down to a single digit.

Legislative Council medical sector representative Dr Kwok Ka-ki told Ming Pao that teenagers will pick up the bad habit of smoking after using e-cigarettes and it is a very serious problem. He also said he was disappointed that a timetable for e-cigarette regulation legislation has not been set and urged the government to act as soon as possible.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.