Bill Cosgrove, CEO at 6Connex, says that the Chinese vape market is dominated by consumers purchasing online, due to the newness of the vape market. Taobao.com, the market leader, has over 18,000 stores offering more than 328,000 vape products, 53,000 Chinese eliquids and 8,700 American juice brands. It is estimated that over 60% of the products for sale are fakes. Other online sources for Chinese consumers include Tmall.com and JD.com. In addition, there are places like Beijing's Gulou area that blossom with all manner of trendy vape stores.
The presence of a very strong online marketplace has implications for young smokers in that it makes accessing vape products easier. The authorities noted a boom in popularity - “They target the young with a variety of fancy flavours, and have become another public health concern,” said Mao Qun’an, spokesman for the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC). He added that the NHFPC intended to regulate the production, sale and use of e-cigarettes on the mainland. Thus far, very little has been done despite this pledge to crack down back in 2015.
Sir Richard Peto, an epidemiologist and tobacco use in China expert, is quoted as saying: “I think that the present government hasn’t really decided how seriously to take smoking. There’s been a lot done for health in China over the last 10-15 years. Death rates are going down. Smoking is one of the few things that is trending in the opposite direction... and I just hope they will choose to take it seriously."
If the authorities have outstanding questions, then the study, funded by the Bill Gates Foundation, performed by a team (Xinsong Wang, Xiulan Zhang, Xiaoxin Xu) from the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Beijing Normal University, set out to get some answers: “China produces the majority of the world's electronic cigarettes and e-cigarettes have become popular in the country, especially among young people. However, little is known about the characteristics of e-cigarette use in China and how it is associated with smoking cessation behaviour. This study focuses on the adolescent group in China and examines their perception and use of e-cigarettes and the association with smoking abstinence.”
They identified 2042 adolescents to be included in the study, aged between 12 and 18, and focussed on their e-cigarette use and smoking abstinence. “Among the 2042 adolescent respondents in our survey, 30.12% were current smokers, 9.4% were former smokers or those who had successfully quit smoking, and 60.48% were never smokers. Among current smokers, 62.62% smoked daily while others smoked occasionally. Also, 57.10% of current smokers smoked 1–5 cigarettes/day, 27.44% smoked 6–10/day, 11.83% smoked 11–20/day, and 3.63% smoked >20 cigarettes/day.”
The team concluded: “E-cigarettes are widely known and quite popular among Chinese adolescents. However, the association between e-cigarette use and smoking cessation deserves further examination until a clearer picture is revealed. As a regulatory system for the rapid development of e-cigarette industry is still missing in China, more empirical research is called for to help form evidence-based regulatory policy on e-cigarettes.”