The Chinese government has issued a revised draft of its vaping products standards that includes a ban on domestic sales of products containing non-tobacco flavors. The flavor rules, if finalized, will take effect May 1, along with stringent licensing requirements for manufacturers.
Public comments are being accepted on the new rules until March 17, but the decision to ban flavors will probably stick. The draft rules were cheered by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which claimed a flavor ban “is the right move to protect Chinese kids from these addictive products.”
The rules will also prohibit sales in China of refillable products and synthetic nicotine, and will limit e-liquid nicotine strength to 20 mg/mL. Additionally, the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration (STMA) will create a “unified national electronic cigarette transaction management platform,” where manufacturers, wholesalers and domestic Chinese retailers will conduct all business.
The Chinese government has also proposed restricting vape exports from China to products allowed in destination countries. It’s still unclear if this provision will be adopted (or enforced), but as written the rule would prevent manufacturers from shipping products not specifically authorized in the countries receiving the shipments. For countries without specific rules, manufacturers and wholesalers would have to follow the rules for the domestic Chinese market.
The Chinese vaping product export business is huge—$15.6 billion, according to the Shanghai Daily—and is responsible for three million jobs in the country. Chinese research firm iiMedia says there are more than 170,000 e-cigarette businesses in China. Rules preventing open-system products from being shipped to the United States (because the FDA has not specifically authorized their sale) would shutter many of those manufacturing businesses and put many employees out of work.
The first product standards draft, announced last December, had left the question of flavors open. The announcement last Friday sent the stock price of Chinese e-cigarette leader RELX Technology tumbling. The company manufactures and sells closed-system devices in a variety of flavors.
In addition to flavor restrictions, the new rules will force major e-cigarette sellers like RELX to sell competitors’ brands in their Chinese stores—something they don’t do currently. The company’s share price on the New York Stock Exchange fell more than 36 percent following the Chinese government announcement, according to Shanghai Daily.
More than half of Chinese men smoke cigarettes (26.6 percent of all adults), according to the World Health Organization. Nearly as many people in China smoke as the entire U.S. population—more than 300 million.
Relatively few Chinese residents vape compared to the number that smoke. But even small percentages of the massive Chinese consumer base translate to a lot of money. The Chinese domestic e-cigarette market has grown at a rate of 70 percent a year since 2013, according to the Global Times, and is valued at about $1.3 billion.
Last November, the government passed a law bringing the vaping industry under control of the STMA, which both regulates and manages the country’s huge tobacco industry. The monopoly administration controls the China National Tobacco Corporation—the largest cigarette manufacturer in the world, and the source of more than five percent of the huge nation’s tax revenue.