Hong Kong is moving forward on proposed legislation to ban the marketing and sale of e-cigarette products. Pictured: A man exhales a cloud off vapours as he smokes an electronic vaping machine Getty Images/Niklas Halle’n/AFP

Hong Kong is moving forward on proposed legislation to ban the marketing and sale of e-cigarette products. The bill to amend the existing smoking ordinance to result in a near-total ban is scheduled to go through its first reading on February 20.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor presented her proposal in October 2018, in a bid to stop e-cigarettes from becoming more popular and being a natural part of the community in a move she calls “nipping the problem in the bud.” Previously, the Hong Kong government said it would only regulate the sale of vaping products to minors.

In the new proposal, possession of any accessory or product related to vaping for the purpose of distributing, manufacturing or selling it is banned and will be subjected to a fine of HK$50,000 and a maximum jail time of six months. This includes new e-cigarettes, herbal cigarettes and heat-not-burn products. Using such will still be considered legal. However, a person caught vaping in a non-smoking area will be slapped with a fixed HK$1,500 penalty and a HK$5,000 court-imposed fine.

When questioned about the harshness of the ruling, considering that some travelers use e-cigarettes for personal use, Amy Yuen Wai-yin, deputy secretary for food and health, said that stopping incoming visitors from bringing vaping products in addresses a possible loophole in the regulation. This is because some travelers might bring e-cig supplies into Hong Kong under the guise of personal consumption, only to sell it in the black market later.

There will be a grace period of three months so existing suppliers and manufacturers have ample time to comply. Visitors will also be asked to surrender their e-cigarette paraphernalia during immigration checks. Yuen said this will be handled leniently at the start provided that the tourist cooperates with Hong Kong authorities.

The regulation comes as studies that show e-cigarettes are a good alternative to traditional tobacco products are emerging. Still, the Hong Kong government believes this latest move is more to protect the youth from developing a habit and having a misconception that it is okay to vape. Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health chairman Antonio Cho-shing Kwong also told CNN that e-cigarette products are being marketed as trendy and cool accessories to have, which poses plenty of dangers.