China has banned online sales and advertising of vape products, a measure the country’s regulators say is needed to “protect minors” from the e-cigarette industry.

As in the United States and several other countries around the world, China is dealing with epidemic levels of youth vaping caused in part by companies directly marketing their products to adolescents and young adults.

In a Nov. 1 statement, China’s State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and State Administration for Market Regulation said online retailers and apps should stop selling vaping products. The Chinese government acknowledged that raising public awareness about the dangers of vaping and other efforts to keep vapes out of the hands of minors have paid off to an extent, but said more must be done.

According to the government statement, minors still know about and buy vaping products through Internet vendors.

“ … E-cigarette companies are blindly pursuing economic interests, and publicizing, promoting and selling e-cigarettes through the Internet poses a huge threat to the physical and mental health of minors,” the statement said.

China banned the sale of vaping products to minors last year but, as in the U.S., age restrictions haven’t done enough to stop the rising tide of youth vaping. The new ban on online sales and advertising will likely shrink China’s vaping industry – one of the largest in the world. More than 7.4 million Chinese consumers vape, and the country is not only the birthplace of the e-cigarette, it is the leading producer of vaping devices.

Chinese authorities are usually able to exercise more regulatory control over private enterprises, so a sweeping ban on internet sales and advertising could have a more immediate effect than the patchwork of local and state anti-vaping laws passed in the U.S.

RELX Technology, a Beijing-based company that claims to control 60% of China’s vaping market, said in a statement that it “resolutely supports the ban” on online sales and doesn’t serve minors, according to the Bloomberg. The company said it is ending all online advertising and selling of its products.

RELX finds itself in a predicament similar to that of San Francisco-based JUUL Labs in the U.S., which says it ceased targeting minors with its products and ads. Last month, JUUL stopped selling all of its flavored vapes in the U.S. with the exception of tobacco, mint and menthol.

The Trump administration has said it is taking steps to ban all but tobacco-flavored vapes nationwide, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to finalize those measures. The restrictions are intended to combat the epidemic of youth vaping, which researchers found continued to grow throughout 2019. The measures also come amid an outbreak of severe lung illnesses tied to vaping, which has sickened at least 1,888 people in every state but Alaska and caused the deaths of 34 people.

Faced with shrinking markets at home, both RELX and JUUL have started aggressively peddling their products overseas. But not all countries are welcoming them. Twenty-seven countries, including Australia, Brazil and India, have banned the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes.

Beasley Allen lawyers Joseph VanZandt and Sydney Everett, together with Mass Torts Section Head Andy Birchfield, are currently representing several individuals who are suing JUUL for the negative impact its products have had on their lives. On Oct. 7 they also filed lawsuits on behalf of school districts in three states, which seek to protect students and recover resources spent fighting the vaping epidemic.

Other sources:
The New York Times
China Economic Net

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