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E-cigarettes need regulations like normal ones

By Liu Lanqiu | China Daily | Updated: 2022-05-21 08:08

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 liquid. The policies of different countries and regions toward e-cigarettes, as well as their views on the pros and cons of e-cigarettes, are different. Still, an increasing number of countries are enacting laws restricting their use because of their harmful effects.

China's e-cigarette industry has seen disorderly development due to regulatory gaps. But now the government has decided to strengthen supervision on e-cigarettes. In November 2021, the State Council, China's Cabinet, added e-cigarettes to the nation's tobacco law by changing its regulations, in an effort to strengthen supervision on the production and sales of e-cigarettes.

The regulation on electronic cigarettes issued by the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration that came into effect on May 1 also strengthens license management on e-cigarette production, wholesale and retail.

According to the regulation, e-cigarette sales will be monitored and an e-cigarette trading management platform will be established 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 regulation will play an important role in eliminating the vacuum in e-cigarette supervision in terms of standards, and ensure the orderly development of the industry and product quality.

Besides, the regulation has specific stipulations on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. It bans the setting up of e-cigarette retail outlets and vending machines near schools, and emphasizes that e-cigarettes should not be sold to minors and retailers should display the warning notice to deter minors from buying them. These measures are aimed at protecting minors' physical and mental health.

Despite the merits of the new regulation, it is only an administrative document without the force of law and thus cannot assign legal liability. For example, the regulation says that related administrative departments can punish offenders in accordance with the law, but it does not make clear the forms or scale of punishment, which may create problems for law enforcement.

Also, the regulation does not deal with the use of e-cigarettes in detail. It only says the country and society will enhance publicity about the harmful effects of e-cigarettes, and dissuade youngsters from vaping.

Studies show that e-cigarette vapor consists of fine and ultra-fine particles, which normally contain nicotine, propylene glycol and various flavors. They may also contain other harmful ingredients such as small amounts of toxicants, carcinogens and heavy metals. And some of the vapor exhaled by e-cigarette users may be inhaled by bystanders and pose a risk to them.

E-cigarette use needs to be strictly controlled by law because it is closely related to public health. A 2014 report of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control suggests that legal steps be taken to end the use of e-cigarettes indoors and in public places.

In addition, a WHO report issued in 2019 says e-cigarettes are not risk free, and their long-term impact on health is yet unknown. As China is a contracting party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the Chinese authorities have to take effective steps to protect minors against e-cigarettes and the public from exposure to second-hand vapor.

According to the Law on the Protection of Minors, guardians are forbidden from encouraging or instigating minors to smoke or indulge in vaping, which means e-cigarettes should be treated and regulated like tobacco products.

Although many Chinese cities have banned smoking and vaping in public places, the country's first comprehensive law on basic medical and healthcare does not explicitly mention the regulation on e-cigarettes.

So if the law is amended in the future, lawmakers should widen the restrictions on smoking by including e-cigarettes. That means regular cigarette and e-cigarette smoking should be banned in enclosed public places, and cigarette packs should display warnings of the negative health consequences of smoking to deter minors from smoking.

In short, an anti-smoking law should be enacted to ban vaping and smoking in enclosed public places, workplaces and public transport, and promote the healthy development of society.

The author is a professor of health law, and the director of the Health Law Research Center at Capital Medical University. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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