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E-cigarettes in Hong Kong

Hong Kong, like other cities around the world has implemented a number of anti-smoking measures in the past decade that have changed the viewpoint of many in the city. From the now legally smokeless bars and restaurants, to the strict limitation on the number of cigarettes you can bring into the city, it would appear that the city’s government is taking the health of its citizens seriously. However, this near world-wide march to smoke-free environments has given rise to a new smoking trend: the e-cigarette.

Here is an overview of e-cigarettes in Hong Kong, and their impact on health insurance.

Individual Health Insurance Plans

What exactly are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are personal devices that were developed to simulate smoking without actually burning tobacco. These devices, powered by batteries, are also commonly referred to as ‘vaporizers’ as they burn a liquid, which is often called ‘e-liquid’ when activated that vaporizes and can be inhaled just like a tobacco cigarette.

The interesting thing about these devices is that unlike cigarettes, many models are meant to be reused and offer replaceable liquid capsules. The e-liquid currently available comes in a variety of flavors with some containing nicotine, and others without any.

The current situation in Hong Kong

Since their introduction in 2004 e-cigarettes have become an increasingly trendy device, especially among the younger demographic. Because of the general wide-spread availability in Hong Kong along with the variety in different types of liquids, e-cigarettes are proving tough for many countries to regulate.

According to the SCMP, “E-cigarettes can be sold legally in Hong Kong with no age limit if the product does not contain nicotine. Any product with more than 0.1 per cent nicotine must be registered as a pharmacy product with the Department of Health.” Furthermore, these devices can only be used in areas where smoking is allowed. For example, you should not be using one of these in a restaurant.

Because many e-cigarettes have refillable or replaceable e-liquid containers, the seller of the e-liquid may not have full knowledge of what is actually contained in the e-liquid. If you were to wander the stores and malls where these devices can be purchased you will quickly see that many of the patrons in the area are younger, and stores may not be necessarily verifying which liquid they are selling, meaning it is entirely possible for minors to illegally purchase e-liquid with nicotine in it.

As nicotine found in e-liquid is no less addictive than that in a cigarette, there is worry among health officials and the government that e-cigarettes could potentially manufacture a whole new generation of smokers. Earlier this year the SCMP reported on how the government is considering taking the lead from Singapore and Thailand, by banning the devices outright, or at the very least banning their importation.

Are there any health risks associated with e-cigarettes?

Like many other potentially addictive substances there is what feels like a near constant stream of reports and news articles being released that contradict and confuse the idea of whether e-cigarettes are unhealthy. In truth, they have not been on the market and used in large amounts for a long enough time to determine whether or not long term use is harmful to our health.

One thing we do know for sure however is that since the nicotine is just as addictive as when having a cigarette, smoking e-liquid will not in any way help you quit smoking. As we stated above, the addictive properties of nicotine is one of the reasons that the Hong Kong government is deliberating on a ban.

Another concern is around the actual impact to health, and as we all know smoking cigarettes will have a negative impact on your health, many e-cigarettes are marketed as the “better” alternative. The thing is, a number of new studies have suggested that certain chemicals in the e-liquid can be incredibly harmful to your health. As was reported in various news sources including The Standard, “Three in four e-cigarettes have been found by United States-based experts to use a flavored liquid that has been linked to severe respiratory disease.”

The article continued, “Seventy-five percent of the tested samples contained diacetyl, which when inhaled has been linked to the respiratory disease bronchiolitis obliterans sometimes called “popcorn lung” because more than 10 years ago it was discovered in workers who inhaled artificial butter flavor in microwave popcorn processing facilities.” Of course, not all liquids will contain diacetyl, but this does raise a valid point: Harmful chemicals could be found in e-liquid, which means that regulation or banning is a necessary option.

Is there any impact on health insurance?

This is an interesting question that anyone who is considering picking up smoking e-cigarettes, or who already smokes them, should be asking. When it comes to normal cigarettes and smoking, many international health insurers will provide coverage for smokers but will ask if you use tobacco products.

The issue is, e-cigarettes do not use tobacco in them and have not officially been deemed to be tobacco products. Therefore, due to the fact that these devices are new and the impact on health is not well known, many insurers are actually also unclear whether they will cover claims related to health issues that stem from e-cigarettes. In our experience, most insurers will treat this on a case-by-case basis.  

In short: If you are going to smoke e-cigarettes, it would be beneficial to have a robust health insurance plan and be sure to check with your health insurance plan documents about whether your provider takes a stance on e-cigarettes or not. To find out, talk with the experts at Pacific Prime. We can offer a free quotation and help recommend a health insurance plan that meets your health and lifestyle. Contact us today.

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Jess Lindeman

Content Strategist at Pacific Prime Hong Kong
Jessica Lindeman is a Content Strategist at Pacific Prime. She comes to work every day living and breathing the motto of "simplifying insurance", and injects her unbridled enthusiasm for health and insurance related topics into every article and piece of content she creates for Pacific Prime.

When she's not typing away on her keyboard, she's reading poetry, fueling her insatiable wanderlust, getting her coffee fix, and perpetually browsing animal Instagram accounts.
Jess Lindeman