SHANGHAI : Chinese state media on Wednesday (Aug 4) reported that many minors are able to purchase e-cigarettes in the country despite a ban on sales to under-18s and cited a child-protection expert as saying a tougher crackdown was needed.
E-cigarettes can be used as a way to quit smoking tobacco but they also contain addictive nicotine. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in a report last month they "may act as a 'gateway' to tobacco consumption" for young people.
Reporters from China's official Xinhua news agency made unannounced visits to e-cigarette shops in the northern cities of Tianjin and Shenyang and found that while all had signs stating that the sale of e-cigarettes to minors was prohibited, enforcement of the law varied in practice.
One anonymous salesperson quoted by Xinhua admitted their e-cigarette store did not typically ask for proof of age, unless the customer appeared to be "obviously very young".
"For the others, we just turn a blind eye," the salesperson said.
Another vendor contacted by Xinhua on social media platform WeChat did not ask for the buyer's age or ID.
The Xinhua report comes as Chinese authorities have raised concerns over other fast-growing sectors such as video gaming, citing the need to improve protection of minors.
Recent crackdowns by regulators on technology and education have put investors on edge over whether other industries could also fall into authorities' crosshairs.
"E-cigarettes pose a safety hazard to minors, and further efforts should be made to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors," Xinhua quoted Fu Jia, director of the Professional Committee for the Protection of Minors of the Tianjin Lawyers Association, as saying.
China is the world's largest consumer of tobacco products with more than 300 million smokers, according to the WHO report.