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Editorial : The delaying tactics of the tobacco industry to block the e-cigarette ban

【明報專訊】THE government has decided to impose a total ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), touching off a debate between the medical profession, the tobacco industry, political parties and politicians. The numerous arguments put forth by opponents of the ban range from "depriving smokers of their freedom" to "preventing smokers from quitting". Some claim that "banning e-cigarettes but not traditional cigarettes is a double standard" while others argue that banning e-cigarettes is "paternalistic and authoritarian" and oppose the ban in the name of democracy and freedom. In effect they are only lending a hand to the tobacco industry. The fact that Hong Kong has not been able to impose a total ban on cigarettes in one go does not mean that Hong Kong should allow the tobacco industry to spread the harm of tobacco use to the next generation covertly. Banning e-cigarettes is a correct move. The government has proposed introducing amendments to the law in the current legislative session, but it must be wary of a hidden force that seems to be using delaying tactics to obstruct the plan. The public should keep a close watch on the positions of legislators.

Smoking is hazardous to our health. It aggravates the burden on the healthcare system and the social cost of smoking is huge. The anti-smoking campaign should not back down. Even though the government was indecisive in its stand on e-cigarettes, it has finally made up its mind and taken an important step forward. The legislative process may not be smooth. Apart from legislators from the business sector, there are also voices in the pan-democratic camp that oppose banning the sale of e-cigarettes.

Perhaps because it is not easy to find any scientific support for e-cigarettes, some legislators have resorted to ideology and oppose the ban in the name of "democracy, freedom and equality". Some people associate the ban with authoritarianism, describing the government's move as "paternalistic and authoritarian". Others argue that e-cigarettes should be tackled in the same way as traditional cigarettes in the tobacco control policy. Since traditional cigarettes have not been banned, e-cigarettes should not be banned either. There are quite a number of arguments but they all seem to be aimed at obscuring facts and confusing the public. Before the end of the last century, traditional cigarettes were very popular because people were not aware of the hazards of smoking. Since too many people are still addicted to smoking, there is still a huge demand for traditional cigarettes and it is impossible to impose a total ban on smoking in one go. The government can therefore only "control smoking". However, given the overall goal of banning smoking, we should not allow the introduction of new tobacco products which would create a new demand. Neither should we oppose the policy of first banning e-cigarettes and then banning smoking completely step by step simply because a total ban cannot be imposed in one go.

It is a global trend to ban smoking. The government should set down the objectives and come up with a timetable for accomplishing the goal of a total ban on smoking. Hong Kong's public healthcare system is on the verge of collapse. It is not reasonable for legislators to demand more resources for social welfare and healthcare while obstructing the anti-smoking initiative by opposing the ban on new tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes which aggravate the burden on the healthcare system.

In the face of a government policy to control and ban smoking, the tobacco industry often resorts to delaying tactics. The longer legislation against the sale of e-cigarettes is delayed, the more time they can buy to allow e-cigarettes to continue to infiltrate the lives of the younger generation. Some legislators have said recently that the government's move to ban the sale of e-cigarettes is too abrupt and that the government should allow different stakeholders to express their views, etc. This is exactly what the tobacco industry wants. This undercurrent should not be disregarded. The medical profession and the education sector should keep a close watch on the legislative progress of the e-cigarette ban and should not allow the delaying tactics to succeed.

明報社評2018.10.18:禁售電子煙立法 須防拖字訣阻撓

政府決定全面禁售電子煙,引起醫學界、煙草業及政黨政客爭論。反對禁售者搬出大堆理由,由「剝奪煙民自由」到「妨礙煙民戒煙」,不一而足。有人揚言「禁電子煙不禁傳統煙是雙重標準」,有人炒作所謂「家長式威權」,高舉民主自由旗幟反對禁售,實際效果是幫煙草界一把。本港未能一蹴而就全面禁煙,不代表容許煙商暗渡陳倉向下一代散播煙禍。禁售電子煙是正確一步,政府提出今個立法年度修例,需要提防隱約有一股勢力採取拖字訣阻撓。一眾議員有何取態,市民須密切監察。

吸煙危害健康,增加醫療系統負擔,社會成本巨大,反吸煙運動不應開倒車。政府對於電子煙的立場雖有搖擺,惟最後總算能夠立定主意,向前邁出重要一步,然而立法工作未必一帆風順。除了商界議員,泛民亦有反對禁售聲音。

大概因為不容易尋找科學理據支持電子煙,有些議員從意識形態入手,以「民主自由公平」之名反對禁售。有人將全禁電子煙扯上威權管治,形容政府做法「家長專制」;有人則聲稱控煙政策要「一視同仁」,不禁傳統煙便不應禁電子煙。各種說法不一而足,均有混淆視聽之嫌。上世紀末之前,世人未知煙害,令傳統煙極為普及,太多人上癮戒不掉,造成迄今傳統煙仍有龐大需求,全面禁煙無法一蹴而就,政府只能「控煙」,然而禁煙大方向既定,便不應引入新煙草產品創造新需求,更沒有理由因為禁煙無法一步到位,就否定先禁電子煙和逐步推進禁煙工作。

禁煙是世界潮流,政府應訂定全面禁煙目標及時間表。本港公營醫療系統瀕臨爆煲,議員無理由一邊大聲疾呼增加社福和醫療投入,另一邊卻阻撓控煙,反對禁售電子煙等新興產品,加重醫療系統負荷。

煙商面對控煙禁煙,常用策略是拖字訣,立法禁售電子煙拖得愈久,愈有利他們「以時間換取空間」,讓電子煙在年輕一代持續滲透,近日有議員表示政府禁售電子煙過於倉卒,認為應先讓不同持份者表達意見,云云,此舉對煙草商而言可謂正中下懷。暗湧不容忽視,醫學界和教育界應密切留意禁售電子煙立法進度,勿讓拖延策略得逞。

■Glossary

touch off sth : to make sth begin, especially a difficult or violent situation

covertly : in a way that is secret or hidden, making it difficult to notice

back down : to take back a demand, an opinion, etc. that other people are strongly opposed to; to admit defeat

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