An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is an electronic device that simulates smoking and consists of an atomizer, a power source such as a battery, and a container for the liquid. The policies of different countries and regions towards electronic cigarettes, as well as their opinions on the advantages and disadvantages of electronic cigarettes, are different. Yet a growing number of countries are enacting laws restricting their use due to their harmful effects.
China’s e-cigarette industry has had a disorderly development due to regulatory loopholes. But now the government has decided to strengthen surveillance on e-cigarettes. In November 2021, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, added e-cigarettes to the National Tobacco Law by amending its regulations, aiming to strengthen supervision of e-cigarette production and sales.
The e-cigarette regulations issued by the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration that came into effect on May 1 also strengthen the management of licenses on the production, wholesale and retail of e-cigarettes.
According to the regulations, e-cigarette sales will be monitored and an e-cigarette exchange management platform will be set up to standardize sales. Efforts will also be made to regulate e-cigarettes in terms of product safety and quality, as well as transportation, import and export.
The regulations will play an important role in eliminating the vacuum in the supervision of electronic cigarettes in terms of standards and ensure the orderly development of the industry and the quality of products.
In addition, the regulations contain specific provisions on the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. It prohibits the installation of electronic cigarette outlets and vending machines near schools, and stresses that electronic cigarettes should not be sold to minors and that retailers must display the warning to deter minors from purchasing them. . These measures aim to protect the physical and mental health of minors.
Despite the merits of the new regulation, it is only an administrative document without the force of law and therefore cannot assign legal liability. For example, the regulation states that relevant administrative departments can punish offenders according to law, but it does not specify the forms or scale of punishment, which may create problems for law enforcement.
Moreover, the regulation does not deal in detail with the use of electronic cigarettes. It only indicates that the country and society will strengthen publicity about the harmful effects of electronic cigarettes and discourage young people from vaping.
Studies show that e-cigarette vapor consists of fine and ultra-fine particles, which normally contain nicotine, propylene glycol, and various flavorings. They may also contain other harmful ingredients such as small amounts of toxic substances, carcinogens and heavy metals. And some of the vapor exhaled by e-cigarette users can be inhaled by bystanders and pose a risk to them.
The use of electronic cigarettes must be strictly regulated by law because it is closely linked to public health. A 2014 report from the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control suggests that legal action be taken to end the use of e-cigarettes indoors and in public places.
Additionally, a WHO report published in 2019 indicates that e-cigarettes are not risk-free and their long-term health impact is still unknown. As China is a contracting party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Chinese authorities must take effective measures to protect minors from e-cigarettes and the public from exposure to second-hand vapour.
Under the Minors Protection Act, guardians are prohibited from encouraging or inducing minors to smoke or vape, meaning e-cigarettes must be treated and regulated as tobacco products.
Although many Chinese cities have banned smoking and vaping in public places, the country’s first comprehensive law on basic medical and health care does not explicitly mention e-cigarette regulations.
So if the law is changed in the future, lawmakers should expand restrictions on smoking to include e-cigarettes. This means that regular smoking of cigarettes and e-cigarettes should be banned in enclosed public places and that cigarette packages should display warnings about the negative health consequences of smoking to deter minors from smoking.
In short, an anti-tobacco law should be enacted to prohibit vaping and smoking in indoor public places, workplaces and public transportation, and promote the healthy development of society.
The author is a professor of health law and director of the Health Law Research Center at Capital Medical University. Opinions do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.