E-commerce marketplaces struggle to comply with e-cigarette sales ban

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(Image credit: BigStock/ Luca Lorenzelli)

Chinese e-commerce platforms are struggling to comply with the country’s newly released blanket ban on the online sales and marketing of electronic cigarettes as regulators look to ramp up its implementation.

Why it matters: China is taking steps to regulate its blossoming vaping market as health concerns over electronic cigarettes increase. Online sales channels, because of the ease with which underage buyers are able to evade age verification processes, are facing the brunt of regulatory pressure.

  • China’s robust demand for vaping products is attracting new players, especially those from the tech sector. Luo Yonghao, the previous CEO of smartphone brand Smartisan, is now a partner at an e-cigarette startup.
  • More than 95% of the world’s e-cigarettes are designed and made in China, Ou Junxi, president of the Electric Cigarette Industry Committee from the China Electronics Chamber of Commerce told local media.

Details: China’s authorities released a statement on Nov. 1 requiring all e-commerce platforms to remove e-cigarettes and halt related marketing campaigns. The measures are aimed at protecting adolescents from vaping, according to the statement.

  • Nearly a week after the ban, related government authorities on Tuesday summoned executives from major e-commerce platforms, search engines, and social platforms to accelerate implementation of the ban.
  • Only a few e-commerce sites including Suning have fully complied with the ban, while a majority of the platforms are still adjusting their operations.
  • Keywords including “e-cigar” are blacklisted on top online marketplaces like Alibaba’s Taobao, Pinduoduo, and JD. However, it is still possible to locate e-cigarette sellers using alternative phrases for keywords.
  • A JD representative attending the government meeting said the company was willing to keep up with the ban, but complete removal of e-cigarette products may take time due to unfinished orders, ongoing contracts with  manufacturers, and unsold inventories. The company said it is blocking related keywords first and will remove the products gradually.
  • In addition to online sales, relevant authorities are also tightening control over offline e-cigarette sales to teenagers.

Context: China drew up a set of standards for e-cigarettes in May which applies to all products related to e-cigarettes from nicotine levels in the vaping solution, types and amounts of additives, and the design and packaging.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Xiaomi denied plans to launch e-cigarette products.