【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.
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