Graphics: China's huge vaping market desperately needs regulation
Updated 17:06, 18-Sep-2019
By Hu Yiwei, Le Tian

The market in China is simply too big for e-cigarette companies to ignore.

Home to about one-third of the world's total smokers, China still lacks comprehensive regulation on controversial e-cigarettes, which are back in the limelight amid a surge of vaping-related diseases and deaths in the United States.

The sleek, nicotine-filled devices are banned or regulated in dozens of other countries.

Huge market potential

China has over 300 million smokers, the largest in the world and a figure that almost amounts to the U.S. population, according to the World Health Organization.

Even if a small fraction, say 10 percent, of that smoking population turn to e-cigarettes, the potential market size will be above 15 billion U.S. dollars, according to industry reports.

Branded as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, e-cigarettes appeal to those planning to quit smoking, and to young people who believe vaping is fashionable or tech-savvy. 

The number of Chinese vapers is increasing annually, especially among the younger generation, according to data released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last month.

Although the rate of vaping among Chinese people was relatively low in 2018, it is already double that of 2015.

The Chinese e-cigarette market ranked 10th globally in terms of size in 2016. Despite the seemingly low market penetration, vaping companies are confident of its huge growth potential.

China already owns hundreds of domestic vaping brands, with RELX and Moti leading the industry. The southern city of Shenzhen is said to have nearly a thousand vape shops and manufacturers.

Last week, U.S.-based vaping giant, Juul Labs, entered China with online stores, trying to grab a share in the overseas battlefield, while facing increasing scrutiny and regulatory hurdles at home.

But customers do not seem to be aware of the damage that vaping can do.

The unknown harm

CGTN interviewed some e-cigarette users in central Beijing last weekend, trying to figure out why and how they vape.

Most of the interviewees said they took up vaping to quit smoking or because they believe vaping is much healthier. Only one in eight respondents were able to clearly state the dangers of vaping.

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development. Vape pens also contain other harmful substances.

Some interviewees said they started vaping simply because of the "good taste" delivered by the flavored e-cigarettes, such as mango and watermelon.

The sweet flavors are one of the major reasons behind youth vaping, drawing millions of teenagers into nicotine addiction, even for those who had never smoked before.

The U.S. government announced plans last week to ban all flavored e-cigarettes.

Read more:

More deaths reported, vaping industry under pressure as scrutiny intensifies

The epidemic of youth vaping is not just in America.

In China, the vaping rate among young people was higher than other age groups, with those aged 15 to 24 the highest, according to a report published by CDC.

A call for regulation

Last year, the Chinese government banned the sale of e-cigarettes to teenagers. But there is much more to be done.

Both producers and customers are calling for rules and standards on the largely unregulated pipeline of e-cigarette.


Read more:

Sector calls for specific standards and rules on China's E-cigarettes

As there are too many e-cigarettes brands that vary in quality, government regulation is good for market development and it protects customers' rights, said some e-cigarettes users interviewed by CGTN. E-cigarettes are available in China in the streets or at online stores.

Starting this year, the coastal city of Hangzhou became the first in the Chinese mainland to ban vaping in non-smoking zones. Several other cities plan to follow suit.

But nationwide laws that regulate and standardize e-cigarette production, use and sales are badly needed.

As nearly half of the vapers purchased their devices online, it is also essential to verify the ages of online buyers.

China's National Health Commission (NHC), together with other departments, is formulating regulations on e-cigarettes through legislation in a bid to address concerns over the product's harmful effects, said officials with the NHC in July.

Analysts believe the regulations could be published as early as next month.


Vox pop: Zhang Rongyi

Graphics: Sa Ren