The government has proposed penalties of HK$50,000 and six months imprisonment for those importing or selling electronic cigarettes and other alternative smoking products.

The first and second reading of the draft law will be conducted at the legislature next Wednesday.

In her policy address last October, Chief Executive Lam proposed a total ban on e-cigarettes in order to protect public health. The decision was made following the government’s previous plan to regulate e-cigarettes.

Deputy Secretary for Food and Health Amy Yuen said at a press conference on Wednesday that the draft law did not intend to criminalise those who use alternative smoking products.

“We hope that, through the ban on import, sale and manufacture, these products will not be so easily available on the market. It will be an effective means to prevent most people from exposure to these products.” she said.

“It may not be feasible if we ban the use of these products. We also don’t want to disturb people too much. Regardless, we know these new products… are harmful to people. We have to stop them from being available everywhere,” she added.

“For users of these new products, the answer is not to go back to conventional smoking products. This is not what we are trying to do. We want them to quit altogether.”

Asked why the government did not choose to ban conventional cigarettes, Yuen said they have already taken root in society and the move would not be feasible.

Alternative smoking products. File

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan also published a blog post saying that the government expected the draft law may face opposition from cigarette companies, vendors, and users of alternative smoking products.

“Regardless, the government’s top consideration is the protection of public health,” she wrote. “We must ensure the smoking control work that the government has conducted for years will not be for nothing.”

The draft law states that anyone who imports, manufactures, sells, distributes, possesses or promotes alternative smoking products, including e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn products and herbal cigarettes, will be subject to a maximum HK$50,000 fine and six months behind bars.

Yuen said the government was inclined to adopt a measure in Singapore whereby tourists can surrender their alternative smoking products at the airport for a short time after the law is passed. Tourists will not be committing an offence if they give up the products.

Furthermore, those who advertise alternative smoking products could face a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and a daily fine of HK$1,500 for subsequent offences.

There will be a fixed penalty of HK$1,500, or a fine of HK$5,000 upon conviction, for using alternative smoking products in non-smoking areas.

A shop selling e-cigarettes and other alternative smoking products. File

Officers at the Department of Health will need a court order to enforce the law in non-public areas. The law will not be enforced at private residences.

Those who own alternative smoking products will not violate the law. However, if the ownership is intended for producing, selling and distributing the products, it will constitute an offence.

Cargo, or those who have such products transitting in Hong Kong will be exempted.

The government said it hoped the law will be effective six months after it is passed by the legislature.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.