A regulatory gulf is set to open between neighbours Shenzhen and Hong Kong

The Sham Chun, or Shenzhen river, divides Shenzhen (on the right) from Hong Kong

It’s about 19 miles from downtown Shenzhen to the centre of Hong Kong as the crow flies, about 30 by road, or around ten from the built-up edge of one to the edge of the other. In some ways, however, the distance between them is massive and about to grow wider.

The old market town of Shenzhen only became a city in 1979 and is now the fourth largest in China, the fourth busiest port in the world, and a leading global technology hub. It’s probably fair to say it wouldn’t be any of those things but for its proximity to the former British colony, now Chinese special administrative region, of Hong Kong.

It’s also the world’s No 1 manufacturing centre for e-cigarette devices. Which, from 22nd April next year, will no longer be legally available for sale in Hong Kong.

As described by the South China Morning Post, last week’s vote by the Hong Kong Legislative Council to ban the import and sale of both e-cigs and heated tobacco products was “a major victory for health activists and educators who have blamed the devices for encouraging smoking among young people”.

The new law won’t make it illegal to use e-cigs, however, which poses an interesting dilemma for both the city’s vapers and its vape store owners, who won’t be happy at being ordered to give up a trade estimated in 2018 to be worth HKD30m ($3.85m) a year.

Should users stock up on supplies now while they can still do so legally? One small store, VapeBullHK, told reporters it expected to take more than HKD1m ($128,000) in sales over the next six months before being forced to close.

So should shops also be stocking up in the hope of one last big boom, or should they meekly surrender and start winding down business now to avoid being left with unsellable stock?

 

Undercover highway

 

Either way, it seems inevitable that that short distance to Shenzhen will become a main highway for undercover trade, unless the Hong Kong authorities impose tight border controls – a tough, if not impossible, prospect if the usual buses, 30-minute ferry and 20-minute train ride return to operating frequent services each way every day after the relaxation of Covid restrictions, which have lately halted traffic between the neighbour cities.

It will also become illegal to manufacture vaping products in Hong Kong – on whose stock exchange the Shenzhen-based e-cig manufacturer Smoore last year raised $21.8bn.

And there will be dismay in some circles that a law that has been debated in Hong Kong for years looks set to end the city’s role as an export hub for trade in e-cig products between Asia and the rest of the world.

The relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China has been a strange and at times highly vexed one ever since the British administration moved out in 1997. The difference in e-cigarette regulation between the two sides of the Sham Chun river may not be greatest cause of friction there, but at the very least it’s surely symbolic.

  

  • There’s no need to look beyond the headlines to know what’s going on here, or to feel a sense of familiarity and inevitability, but setting them alongside one another may raise a wry smile.

This one “Study: E-cigarettes don’t help smokers stay off combustible cigs” and plenty of others like it appeared in various places on or around the same day as this one from Britain’s Daily Mirror: “Tall tales and toxic tweets about e-cigarettes are stopping smokers quitting”.

You pays your money and you takes your choice.

   

  • And for a little light relief, how about this headline from the BBC, Britain’s No1 news provider: “Ampthill homes evacuated after e-cigarette device found”.

Are e-cigs now so dangerous that the neighbours have to leave their homes? Er, no. But when “a pink device with a blue flashing light” is left in the street what’s a responsible citizen to do but report the “suspicious package” to the police?

Which is how a bomb disposal squad came to turn up in a small, sleepy English town, evacuate a quiet residential close, and set off two controlled explosions. Police later confirmed: “By 1.40pm, the device had been deemed non-suspicious and all road closures were lifted.” Phew.

– Aidan Semmens ECigIntelligence staff

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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