Cullip: China Could Revolutionize Harm Reduction

Martin Cullip (Photo: Tobacco Reporter archive)

China has the potential to revolutionize global tobacco harm reduction now that its government has asserted authority over e-cigarettes, according to consumer advocate Martin Cullip.

On Nov. 26, China’s State Council on Nov. 26 amended the country’s tobacco monopoly law to include vapor products, which means that vaping products and their manufacturers will be regulated by the Chinese government under the same process as cigarettes.

The announcement triggered feverish speculation about the impact of the new rules, with some commentators fretting that tobacco rules would put vapor companies out of business and others welcoming the prospect of enhanced product safety and quality.

Writing in Filter, Cullip points not only to the vapor industry’s economic significance to China, but also to the potential domestic health benefits of sensible regulation. China, argues Cullip, has a lot to gain from financially from domestic harm reduction, when the country’s high smoking prevalence in an aging population creates heavy costs in health care and lost productivity.

Cullip is also encouraged by China’s willingness and ability to stand up the World Health Organization, which remains ideologically opposed to tobacco harm reduction.

While the government would seem to have much to gain from blocking the growth of safer alternatives such as e-cigarettes and tobacco-heating products—the state-owned CNTC sells more than 40 percent of the world’s cigarettes—there are many incentives for the government to push things in an entirely different direction, according to Cullip.

China manufactures the vast majority of the world’s vape products. More than 170,000 businesses engage in e-cigarette production and the supply chain, employing around 3 million people. The CNTC is also the world’s biggest holder of tobacco harm reduction patents, owning almost 27 percent of all related patent publications.

“It is difficult to imagine the government strangling the market—even if this is motivated more by profit than by its citizens’ health,” writes Cullip.