While major cities in China continue efforts to combat smoking in public places, electronic cigarettes have enjoyed increasing popularity across the country, amid controversies regarding their potential risks.
The modern form of e-cigarette was invented by a Chinese pharmacist in 2003, and soon spread in Western markets like the U.S. and the U.K.. Xia Zhipeng, a regular vaper and a retailer of the product in Beijing, told CGTN that e-cigarette stores began to boom around 2014. His brand now has about 10 franchise stores in other cities.
Online sales account for much of the market in China. The devices and nicotine-infused oil can be easily obtained on shops online, such as Taobao, with almost all being advertised as a way to help quit smoking.
A World Health Organization report said the global market for e-cigarettes in 2015 was estimated at about 10 billion U.S. dollars, with China occupying about 3 to 5 percent.
A majority of the e-cigarette users in China are nicotine addicts who take vaping as a way of smoking cessation. Others take it as a cool life style. However, it still remains a heated debate on whether it's really harm-free as manufactures have claimed, or useful in helping long-term smokers.
In January, the WHO released a report on the e-cigarettes, saying that many of the substances in the aerosol are toxic and could cause "significant pathological changes." It also says there is very little scientific evidence that e-cigarettes can help stop smoking.
Xiao Lin, a professor from the Tobacco Control Office of China CDC, said people should be very cautious about the relatively fresh product, adding manufactures have developed more than 8,000 flavorants to attract more users, and their toxicity is yet to be verified.
Some countries have established related regulations on the e-cigarette industry. But in China, the industry is developing in a chaotic way without any supervision. Xiao said if the food and drug departments set standards for the components of the oil and the amount of nicotine in it, it will benefit the industry and provide more protection to users.
In March, Zheng Wei, a lawmaker from Guangdong Province, submitted a proposal to the country's top legislature, calling on the government to work out related criteria to safeguard the quality and safety of e-cigarette and regulate the promotion of it.