LCQ18: Stepping up regulation of e-cigarettes

Hong Kong (HKSAR) -      Following is a question by the Hon Kwok Wai-keung and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):


  According to the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap. 138), nicotine is a Part 1 poison, and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) containing nicotine are therefore considered pharmaceutical products, which must be registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Hong Kong before they may be put up for sale or distribution in Hong Kong.  As revealed by a research conducted earlier on, a number of harmful chemicals and carcinogens have been found in various types of e-cigarette products not containing nicotine.  Moreover, it has been reported in the press that fruit-flavoured e-cigarettes labelled as nicotine-free are sold in some consignment shops (commonly known as "cube shops"), and that some primary school students have been found smoking e-cigarettes in public places.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of items of e-cigarette products registered as pharmaceutical products under Cap. 138 in Hong Kong in the past three years;

(2) whether the relevant government departments conducted sampling tests in the past three years on e-cigarette products which claimed to be nicotine-free to see if their composition is consistent with that claimed on the packaging; if they did, of the frequency and outcome; if not, whether they will consider conducting such kind of sampling tests;

(3) whether the relevant government departments conducted sampling tests in the past three years on various types of e-cigarette products to see if they contained harmful chemicals and carcinogens; if they did, of the frequency and outcome; if not, whether they will consider conducting such kind of sampling tests;

(4) whether the relevant government departments instituted prosecutions in the past three years against offences involving e-cigarette products; if they did, of the number of prosecution cases, with a breakdown by the charge laid and, among them, the number of cases involving online sale of such products; and

(5) as the authorities indicated in June 2016 that they were planning to enact laws to completely prohibit the import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertising of e-cigarettes, of the factors considered by the authorities in making such a decision; the details, work schedule and progress of the plan; when they will conduct a public consultation on the plan; whether they will, based on the outcome of public consultation and other factors, reconsider the relevant decision before commencing the legislative exercise; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



  At present, according to the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap.

138), e-cigarettes containing nicotine are considered pharmaceutical products.  They have to comply with the relevant requirements on safety, quality and efficacy under the ordinance, and must be registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Hong Kong before they can be put up for sale or distribution in Hong Kong.  Besides, under the same ordinance, nicotine is categorised as a Part 1 poison, which can only be legally possessed or sold by licensed medicine dealers, including licensed wholesale dealers and authorised sellers of poisons.  Illegal possession or sale of Part 1 poisons or unregistered pharmaceutical products is an offence.  Any person convicted of the offence is liable to a maximum fine of $100,000 and imprisonment for up to two years. 

  In addition, the Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance (Cap. 371) stipulates that no person shall smoke or carry a lighted cigarette, cigar or pipe in a no smoking area.  Any person who smokes (including e-cigarettes) in a statutory no smoking area commits an offence and is subject to a fixed penalty of $1,500. 

  My reply to the questions raised by the Hon Kwok Wai-keung is as follows:

(1) According to the records of the Department of Health (DH), there are currently no nicotine-containing e-cigarettes registered as pharmaceutical products in Hong Kong.  Neither has DH received any application for e-cigarettes containing nicotine for sale or distribution in Hong Kong.

(2) to (4) From 2014 to November 2016, the Drug Office of DH received a total of 180 enquiries about e-cigarette products (mainly concerning regulation of the products) and 41 related complaints.  The Drug Office followed up on all the complaints and took appropriate actions where necessary.  During the same period, the Drug Office carried out 133 sampling tests on the presence of nicotine in various e-cigarette products on the market.  Detailed figures are as follows:
Year No. of sampling tests on the presence of nicotine in e‑cigarette products No.

of enquiries about e‑cigarette products
No. of complaints about e‑cigarette products
2014 21 93 15
2015 70 48 14
2016 (Jan to Nov) 42 39 12
Total 133 180 41

  The Drug Office handled a convicted case involving illegal online sale of unregistered nicotine-containing e-cigarettes during the period from 2014 to November 2016.

  The Government is highly concerned about the issue of e-cigarettes.  Contrary to the claim made by e-cigarette advocates and manufacturers, there is evidence that e-cigarette aerosol is not merely water vapour.  It was demonstrated in studies that formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing agent, was released during vapourisation of e-cigarette liquid.  As e-cigarettes may contain various concentrations of nicotine, the use of e-cigarettes may cause nicotine dependence and constriction of blood vessels.  Moreover, most e-cigarettes also contain propylene glycol, a known irritant, inhalation of which may induce airway disorders.  In addition, overseas studies indicated that various harmful substances such as heavy metals, nitrosamines and flavouring agents were detected in e-cigarette aerosol.  The Government is conducting laboratory tests on the constituents of e-cigarettes available in the market and will announce the test results when appropriate.

(5) In view of the potential health effects and hazards arising from the use of e-cigarettes, the wider long-term impact on students and youngsters and the recommendations of the World Health Organization, the Government proposes to step up regulation of e-cigarettes.  We note that other jurisdictions such as Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom and a few other countries have already planned/adopted measures to either regulate or completely prohibit the import, distribution and sale of e-cigarettes.  We will study in detail the regulatory approaches and formulate a suitable tobacco control policy in light of the actual situation in Hong Kong.  We are discussing the legislative arrangements with relevant departments and are looking forward to introduce the amendment bill into the Legislative Council in 2017.  We will consult stakeholders on the details of the legislative proposal at an appropriate time.

Published on: 2017-01-11

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