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China to ban vaping in public places to quash habit among teens

Document by eight government agencies calls for legislation, revisions to laws and enforcement

Hong Kong

CHINA plans to ban e-cigarettes in public places to stem a "distinct increase" in vaping among teenagers, making it the latest nation to push back on the nascent industry that is seeking a foothold in the world's largest tobacco market.

A week after it banned all online sales of e-cigarettes, a document issued on Thursday by eight government bodies, including the National Health Commission, laid out an action plan to combat smoking and vaping among teenagers.

The document urges using legislation, revisions to laws and enforcement to ban e-cigarettes in public places, but did not say when and how the ban will take effect.

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China's moves are the latest restriction on an industry whose fortunes have soured rapidly in the past few months as a mysterious lung disease linked to vaping has hurt 1,888 people and killed 37.

The document said: "There is currently no clear evidence that e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking. The authorities must not allow e-cigarettes to be marketed or advertised as smoking cessation tools."

This stance puts China squarely with countries that have banned e-cigarettes outright, including India, Brazil and Singapore. In contrast, some nations like the UK view e-cigarettes as viable alternatives to smoking, one of the leading causes of preventable death. A survey released by the World Health Organization in July showed that over 90 per cent of respondents in China support smoke-free indoor places. This included both cigarettes as well as e-cigarettes.

China's e-cigarette market size rose from US$451 million in 2016 to US$718 million last year, L.E.K. Consulting estimates. The lack of specific regulations in the past on e-cigarettes has been blamed for their proliferation.

The government document stresses the need to create a smoke-free environment, whether from traditional cigarettes or vaping devices, in and around schools and "seriously investigate" the illegal sale of smoking products in the schools' vicinity. China banned the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18 years old in August last year.

Gan Quan, a New York-based director of tobacco control at The Union, a non-profit that provides policy making support for developing nations' health ministries, said: "We are very concerned with youth smoking as sale of cigarettes around schools is common." Enforcement of the ban on sale to minors in China has been "very poor", he said.

Once thought of as a useful tool to help smokers quit cigarettes, e-cigarettes are now being seen as just as harmful. They are now banned in more than 20 countries, and Juul Labs Inc, the largest US e-cigarette company, has been probed for marketing its product to teenagers.

Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg, has campaigned and given money in support of a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes and tobacco. BLOOMBERG