Alternative tobacco and nicotine products in China

In China, as used to be the case in most of the Western world and is still in many countries, tobacco is a product that cannot be sold by any other party than the Chinese state that has a monopoly. The monopoly in China is administered by the Tobacco Monopoly Administration and the China National Tobacco Corporation (known as China Tobacco, which operates as the commercial entity and sells tobacco products). As such, the monopoly is responsible for regulation and administration of the sector.

Modern oral tobacco products in China

Modern oral tobacco products like tobacco-free pouches with nicotine are not regulated by a product-specific legislation in China, although there are specific areas where restrictions apply. According to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Tobacco Monopoly, “tobacco monopoly commodities” are defined as “cigarettes, cigars, cut tobacco, re-dried leaf tobacco, leaf tobacco, cigarette paper, filter rods, cigarette tow and cigarette manufacturing equipment”. Additionally, “cigarettes, cigars, cut tobacco and re-dried leaf tobacco are generally referred to as tobacco products”.

According to a newsletter released by the China State Tobacco Monopoly Administration in January 2019 on market development and legal regulation of new tobacco products, “oral tobacco should be regulated as tobacco products because their main raw materials come directly from tobacco leaf”. The newsletter does not mention tobacco-free nicotine pouches. In August 2020, the Department of Law and Legislation of the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China told TobaccoIntelligence that it had never heard of nicotine pouches. A tobacco control officer of the Department of Planning and Information of the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China told us: “These products are not regulated since the usage rate of modern oral tobacco products is very low in China.”

From conversations with the local industry, we learned that retail of nicotine pouches is taking place without restrictions and that they haven’t experienced any issues with the tobacco enforcement authorities.

Despite the lack of a product-specific regulatory framework for nicotine pouches, these products are under the control of the tobacco monopoly administration, as indicated by the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China.