A passenger on a domestic flight in China has been detained for five days for smoking an electronic cigarette in the plane’s bathroom.
The passenger ran afoul of a ban on smoking cigarettes, including electronic ones, on a flight between Hangzhou and Changchun city in China’s northeastern Jilin province on September 29, according to local media reports.
The punishment comes on the heels of an incident this summer when an Air China flight was forced to descend 25,000 feet in 10 minutes after a co-pilot shut off the air-conditioning in the cabin, while trying to prevent his electronic cigarette smoke from filtering into the cabin.
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While domestic airlines have regulations regarding smoking electronic cigarettes, China – the world’s largest producer of electronic cigarettes – has no national laws regarding the regulation of their use or production.
But experts are calling for this to change, saying restrictions on smoking electronic cigarettes, or vaping, should not just be limited to planes, but should also be included in the ban on smoking conventional cigarettes in public places in a growing number of Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
“There are many reports that electronic cigarette smokers are vaping in restaurants and public walking places, and there’s no regulation for this behaviour,” said Rose Zheng, director of the World Health Organisation’s Collaborating Centre for Tobacco and Economics at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.
“Now there are experts and appeals from the general public saying that vaping restrictions should be included in the smoke free legislation,” Zheng said.
“This is a trend, but the municipal governments need to make some changes to the regulations.”
Officials from the state-affiliated Beijing Tobacco Control Association in August voiced support for a ban.
They called on the government to add electronic cigarettes to a control list following a July incident involving a passenger vaping on a subway car, state media said.
There have been initial indications that more regulation is coming to the US$4 billion industry, which includes 7 million Chinese electronic smokers, according to Zheng.
Recent months have seen a ban on the sale of such products to children and more quality regulation within the industry itself, she said.
Electronic cigarettes were invented by a Chinese medical researcher 15 years ago. The products were originally considered a healthier alternative to smoking and a potential tool to help smokers quit.
Public health institutions around the world have since questioned whether these devices are attracting people who wouldn’t have used tobacco cigarettes in the first place, as the number of vapers has swelled worldwide.
Disagreement about the impact of electronic cigarettes is one reason they have not been further regulated in China so far, according to Zheng.
China manufactures more than 90 per cent of the total global supply of electronic cigarettes.