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Illegal electronic cigarettes seized
By Teddy Ng (HK Edition)
Updated: 2009-03-05 07:39

HONG KONG: Maybe you'd like to get around those beefed up tobacco taxes by trying out one of those new "electronic cigarettes". Before you try, you might want to think about this: possession of electronic cigarettes is illegal. Possession of them can cost you a HK$100,000 fine and you risk a couple of years in jail to boot.

The Department of Health issued the warning yesterday after seizing nine types of electronic cigarettes from a store in Ap Liu Street, Sham Shui Po. Two persons were arrested.

Electronic cigarettes are not licensed for sale in Hong Kong. They cost between HK$380 and HK$599 per set and have become very popular in recent days since Financial Secretary John Tsang introduced his plan to raise the tobacco duty by 50 percent.

The electronic product is a battery-powered device that delivers a vaporized nicotine solution. The vapor provides a flavor and physical sensation similar to that of smoking tobacco.

The products have been advertised on the Internet as a device to help smokers who want to quit.

However, Director of Health Lam Ping-yan said a sample taken from the electronic cigarettes that were seized contained 26 milligrams of nicotine. A whole pack of regular cigarettes contains only about 15 milligrams.

Electronic cigarettes containing nicotine and marketed as tobacco cessation products are regarded as pharmaceutical products. As such they are required to be duly registered and licensed for sale in Hong Kong. Possession or sale of an unregistered pharmaceutical product can lead to hefty fines and imprisonment under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance.

Lam said electronic cigarettes, available on the mainland, are not widely available in Hong Kong.

He said such products also contain other substances that may be harmful to health.

The department has asked Internet service providers to delete related advertisements.

A spokesman for the department said smokers who want to quit smoking should seek advice from medical professionals and obtain information from the Tobacco Control Office.

The store where the illegal smokes were seized was still open yesterday, selling other electronic products.

A person-in-charge of the store said all electronic cigarettes had been taken off the shelves.

He insisted however that the product is healthier than tobacco.

"It is legal on the mainland and in Europe. I cannot understand why it is illegal in Hong Kong," he said.

However, University of Hong Kong department of community medicine head Lam Tai-hing said it is appropriate that electronic cigarettes be outlawed. He said the product affects smokers' will to quit the habit.

"The users absorb high doses of nicotine, which go into the blood within seconds. The users feel like they are smoking tobacco," he said. "It has nothing to do with tobacco cessation. The chance of successfully quitting smoking with electronic cigarettes is slim."

Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health chairman Lisa Lau said users of electronic cigarettes will remain addicted to nicotine.

She said electronic cigarettes can be more harmful than tobacco cigarettes because the products contain other chemicals.

The World Health Organization said there is no study attesting to the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes as a method for quitting smoking.

Taiwan authorities also advised smokers not to use the products.

(HK Edition 03/05/2009 page1)