Banning flavoured cigarettes may reduce Hong Kong’s attractiveness to tourists and business travellers, a lawmaker has warned, but his comments were countered by a senior health official who said visitors might prefer fresh air instead.

Legislative Council member Peter Shiu Ka-fai, who represents the retail sector, urged the government on Friday to reconsider its expanded anti-smoking measures, saying a sizeable proportion of people worldwide – about 20 per cent – were smokers.

“Flavoured tobacco products are sold everywhere in the world, and if you don’t allow people to buy them here, it actually undermines their right to choose,” he told a radio programme, adding that the ban could deter foreigners who smoked from visiting.

“In the future, if we get to a point where we don’t allow smoking at all, will [travellers] avoid coming to Hong Kong? Or perhaps families might choose not to visit if a member smokes.”

Shiu acknowledged that while the new rules did not mean a complete ban on smoking, he pointed to Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau’s goal of making Hong Kong a smoke-free city in the longer term.

“The government hopes Hong Kong can eventually become a smoke-free city, which sounds great, but we should also consider the reality of the situation,” he said.

Authorities on Thursday announced 10 new measures to be implemented before the end of 2025, to further decrease Hong Kong’s smoking rate. These include a ban on flavoured tobacco products and possession of alternative tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products like vape pens.

Lawmaker Peter Shiu told a radio programme the ban on flavoured cigarettes could diminish Hong Kong’s appeal to tourists and business travellers. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Smoking while queuing outdoors will also be prohibited.

Deputy Secretary for Health Eddie Lee Lik-kong said authorities had considered all aspects of society, including the economy and tourism, before deciding on the new measures.

He believed visiting Hong Kong was a diverse, “multifaceted” experience that would not be tainted solely because of its smoking regulations.

Countering Shiu’s comments on the same radio programme, Lee said: “I am sure visitors also want to visit a Hong Kong with fresh air.”

The important thing was to remain transparent by posting advertisements at immigration ports to ensure visitors knew the city’s rules on smoking, he added.

Shui also urged the authorities to clarify how residents were meant to handle their remaining alternative smoking products.

A ban on the importation and sale of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products has been in force since April 2022, although it is not illegal to possess these products.

“Let’s say somebody bought a lot of products before the ban which still have not been used up, or they still have a device. If they are no longer allowed to possess them, who should it go to?” Shiu asked, saying the government should conduct further public consultations and gauge the views of smokers in particular.

A government source told the Post earlier that since the ban on e-cigarettes and related products had already been in place for two years, it was “sensible to believe that personal stocks had been used up”.

Shui also questioned the government’s plan to incrementally raise the tobacco tax to 75 per cent of the retail price, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

The lawmaker noted a number of countries that had increased taxes on tobacco to that level had failed to lower the smoking rate, suggesting this approach may not be the most effective.

Official statistics showed the latest smoking rate of people aged 15 or above was 9.1 per cent in 2023, which amounts to about 577,300 smokers.