China cracks down on teen vaping, tightens e-cigarette regulations

On March 11, China’s State Tobacco Monopoly Administration announced a series of measures regulate the production and distribution of e-cigarettes and vapes in the country, including prohibiting sales to minors and restricting the availability of flavored products.

The measures will come into effect nationwide on May 1 and will follow the draft rules authorities issued in December 2021. The draft rules officially removed products from a legal gray area and under the direct control of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration.

Minors face vaping ban

In addition to affirming quality control of tobacco products and requiring legal registration of related businesses, the new regulations include banning the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping at vending machines, counters self-checkout and stores near schools. These measures target a specific group of consumers: minors.

Although the question of teen vaping is not exclusive to China, it is proliferate in the countryside. Even though authorities outright banned online vaping sales and advertising in 2019, vapes are still widely available in China, especially in tier-one cities.

They can be purchased not only at vape shops, but also at convenience stores where employees rarely ask young shoppers to identify themselves.

Electronic cigarettes are displayed in a convenience store in Shanghai. Picture via Weibo

You can also easily buy vape pens and pods through WeChat. For example, many outlets of Relx, the biggest e-cigarette brand in China, have their own WeChat accounts to better connect with consumers and make sales on the platform.

From the writer’s first-hand experience: I’ve been shopping for vaping products on WeChat for over a year and I’ve never been asked for my full name or ID, unlike the purchase in a physical store. A quick text message with a home address and phone number is enough for the products to be delivered.

Farewell, fruit vapes

Another measure aimed at tackling vaping among teens, which will likely devastate many adult shoppers as well, is to ban the production of fruit-flavored vaping pods.

Fruity vapes are thought to be more appealing to young people due to their low nicotine content (3% versus 5% in tobacco flavored pods) and accessible flavors.

relx vap products china

Some of the fruity flavors of Relx. Picture via Weibo

According to a Shanghai-based retailer who asked to remain anonymous, since the announcement of the new regulations, Relx has stopped distributing fruit-flavored pods.

He told RADII that fruity vapes account for the overwhelming majority of vape sales at the store.

“It was all very sudden. If we had known in advance, we would have stocked larger quantities of fruit flavored pods,” he said.

In order to take advantage of the booming demand, some Relx retailers have raised the price from 99 to 110 RMB (about 17 USD) for three fruit flavored pods.

However, in a announcement On Tuesday, Relx said it disapproved of the price hikes and encouraged customers to report those stores.

The anonymous retailer told us that these regulations would “leave huge impacts” on the brand’s business. He adds:

“I think many young consumers will switch to regular cigarettes. Imported cigarette brands already have a lot of fruity flavors. The risk that we go bankrupt is real.

Whether the new regulations will effectively reduce underage addiction to e-cigarettes or inadvertently lead to an increase in cigarette smoking remains to be seen.

Cover image by Zachary Tan on Unsplash

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