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China: Government Tightens Regulation of E-Cigarettes

(Dec. 27, 2019) On October 30, 2019, China’s State Tobacco Monopoly Administration (STMA, also known as China Tobacco) and the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) jointly issued the Circular on Further Protecting Minors from the Harm of E-cigarettes, which urges the industry to stop selling and advertising e-cigarettes online to prevent minors from obtaining them.

October 2019 Circular

The Circular first reiterates that no market entities may sell e-cigarettes to minors—those under the age of 18 under Chinese law. Previously, in August 2018, the two regulators issued another circular to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors nationwide.

The new Circular further urges that websites and apps selling e-cigarettes be shut down; e-cigarette products removed from online shopping platforms; and online e-cigarette advertisements withdrawn. The new rules are aimed at “further strengthening the protection of minors’ physical and mental health and preventing minors from purchasing e-cigarettes online and smoking them,” according to the Circular.

The STMA cites recent American reports of deaths and injuries related to smoking e-cigarettes when explaining the decision to tighten e-cigarette regulation.

Following the issuance of the Circular, on November 5, 2019, the official Xinhua News agency reported that the STMA offices in “key areas” were meeting with major e-commerce platforms and urging them to shut down online e-cigarette stores. The STMA also vowed to impose more stringent sanctions over the unlawful manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes.

Penalties

The Circular does not specify penalties for failure to comply with its provisions. According to China’s Law on Administrative Penalties, the administrative organs may impose only penalties prescribed by laws, regulations, or rules. (Law on Administrative Penalties art. 3.)

The Law on the Protection of Minors, as revised in 2006, prohibits the selling of tobacco and alcohols to minors. (Law on the Protection of Minors art. 37.) The Law provides that the competent authorities may order violators to rectify their wrongdoings and may impose administrative penalties. (Art. 67.)

In addition, the Advertising Law prohibits tobacco advertisements in mass media, in public places, on public transportation, and outdoors. It also prohibits the delivery of any tobacco advertisements to minors. (Advertising Law art. 22.) Violators may face a fine of up to RMB1 million yuan (about US$142,438) and revocation of relevant business licenses. (Art. 57.)

Legislative Development

It has been a matter of debate in China, however, whether e-cigarettes should be regulated by the STMA as a tobacco product. Right now, Chinese e-cigarette companies are typically registered as tech companies producing “electronic products.” An expert from the Chinese nonprofit organization, Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, has called for “a neutral agency,” not the STMA, to regulate e-cigarettes. “E-cigarettes are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, and similar departments in the United Kingdom regulate the market access of e-cigarettes,” said the expert.

In July 2019, a National Health Commission (NHC) official stated that the NHC was “coordinating with other relevant agencies in conducting research on the regulation of e-cigarettes” and planning to regulate e-cigarettes through legislation.

Although a national law specifically regulating e-cigarettes has not been passed, smoking e-cigarettes in public places has been banned by some local smoking-control regulations.