E-Cigarette Regulation in China: The Road Ahead

Eric A. Feldman, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School
Chai Yue, Tsinghua University

11 U. Pa. Asian L. Rev. 409 (2016)


The global electronic cigarette industry has exploded in the past decade—from $20 million in sales in 2008 to an estimated $7 billion in 2014—and China has been an essential part of that growth. As the world's largest consumer of combustible tobacco products, accounting for about one-third of the global market. China is also a prime contender to become the largest consumer of electronic cigarettes. These simple facts raise a critical question—what should the Chinese government do about regulating electronic cigarettes?

So far, the regulation of electronic cigarettes in China has attracted scant attention. This paper begins to fill that gap by identifying the key issues confronting regulators in China and suggesting a way forward. It first describes the origin and development of e-cigarettes in China and then discusses the current regulatory status of e-cigarettes. Because two of the key regulatory options Chinese regulators are likely to consider—treating electronic cigarettes as tobacco products or as pharmaceutical products— represent the approaches of the United States and Japan respectively, the paper discusses e-cigarette regulation in those countries and analyzes its relevance to China. The paper concludes by suggesting that regardless of whether Chinese regulators decide to treat e-cigarettes as tobacco products or pharmaceuticals, there are a number of areas that invite immediate regulatory action. They include the dubious health claims made by many e-cigarette companies, such as suggesting that e-cigarettes are good for one’s health, and the lack of quality control provisions governing the electronic cigarette manufacturing process. More generally, tobacco control measures targeted at combustible cigarettes should be strengthened to better control combustible tobacco consumption and address the increased use of e-cigarettes. Priority should be placed on regulating sales to youth.