Lack of E-Cigarette Regulation is Creating a Chinese Business Boom, but What Does That Mean for You?
E Cigs Made In China In one small five-square-mile area in Shenzhen called Bao’an, there stands an industrial district where more than 600 e-cigarette producers are housed. Even more manufacturers selling bulk tubes, casings, batteries, heating coils and other components exist in this very same space. If you’re an e-cigarette producer in Shenzhen and you need, say 50,000 metal casings, a local manufacturer can supply them to you for about $25,000 and you would have them in your hands within hours.
Larger manufacturers in this district tend to keep relatively clean operating lines and produce standard and safe products, but there are only a few of those 600 that qualify for that distinction. Most manufacturers are small, with quality uncertain at best, which raises the question to the consumer about what is safe and what isn’t.
It is estimated that 90% of all e-cigarette products sold are manufactured in China. This year, Chinese manufacturers are estimating that they will ship more than 300 million e-cigarettes to the United States and Europe.
The e-cigarette industry began in China, where it was first introduced to the marketplace in 2007. Unlike other industries such as electronics, toys and clothing where global brands already had a foothold in the marketplace, the e-cigarette industry lacks the presence of big business and therefore has developed entirely in a world where regulation simply did not exist. Even as the United States Food and Drug Administration moves toward regulating, currently it is not required for manufacturers to list ingredients, or disclose manufacturing details, leaving the e-cigarette industry as a kind of “Wild West” where laws currently don’t apply.
“This is really a chaotic industry,” says Jackie Zhuang, who is deputy general manager of Huabao International, a Chinese tobacco flavoring company in Shanghai as well as an expert on China’s e-cigarette market. “I hope it will soon be well regulated.”
Part of the problem with the lack of regulation is how it affects manufacturing standards. There are a variety of scientific studies that have pointed to manufacturing issues as the cause of negative results in their studies. Just last year one study found the presence of tin particles and other metals in e-cigarette which came from the solder joints of e-cigarette devices.
Another study of imported cigarettes bought in the United States found large amounts of nickel and chromium, which likely came from the heating element, again suggesting that substandard manufacturing can turn a safe device into a dangerous one by allowing metals to enter the e-liquid. “We’ve found on the order of 25 or 26 different elements, including metals, in the e-cigarette aerosols,” said Dr. Prue Talbot, a professor of cell biology at the University of California, Riverside, who co-authored of several of these studies. “Some of the metal particles are less than 100 nanometers in diameter, and those are a concern because they can penetrate deep into the lungs.”
In addition, several health advocates groups worry about China’s scandalous history with food and drug safety. These advocates point out many examples, including when several cough syrup and toothpaste manufacturers substituted the sweetener, glycerin for diethylene glycol, an industrial strength solvent. That substitution resulted in over 350 deaths in 2006 and critics are afraid that diethylene glycol could be headed for e-liquids as well. In 2009, the FDA issued a statement warning about health risks that could be associated with e-cigarettes, and reported that laboratory studies of some e-liquid samples had found the presence of toxic chemicals, including diethylene glycol.
Reports of exploding e-cigarettes have also been permeating the news media, causing more concern for the safety of vaping. Most of the cases of malfunctioning e-cigarettes is generally attributed to improper charging procedures, or yet again, substandard manufacturing standards infiltrating the e-cigarette marketplace.
Poor manufacturing standards and lack of regulation for ingredients in e-liquids is just giving the e-cigarette a bad name in a social climate that already has it’s reservations about the safety of the devices in the first place. While many studies continue to confirm that e-cigarettes are far healthier than cigarettes and effective tools for quitting smoking, reports of toxic metals and exploding e-cigarettes will make a stronger impact on the critics who are just looking for something to hate about vaping.
Worse than a bad rap, is that the lack of regulation can truly put an uneducated consumer at risk. “We need to understand what e-cigarettes are made of,” said Dr. Avrum Spira, a lung specialist at the Boston University School of Medicine, “The manufacturing process is a critical part of that understanding.”
The New York Times conducted a study of manufacturing operations in Shenzhen and did find that many factories made efforts at quality control, however, some smaller, lower-end operations would have no safety testing equipment or even worse were simply counterfeit manufacturers, making knock-off versions of larger name brands with substandard parts.
Danny Zhu, who works for KangerTech, one of the larger Shenzen E-cigarette makers, voices his concern with the results of under regulation. “I worry about overseas consumers. There are lots of small workshops here, with 10 or 20 people, and they have no quality control or safety certifications for the material they use. Some of their products are covered with a layer of paint. It’s unhealthy.”
Unfortunately, analysts believe that any manufacturing guidelines that are put into motion could still take years to take place, while in the meantime Chinese manufacturers are building faster hoping to cash in on as much as they can before regulation takes place. This creates even less quality in the marketplace, creating bad press for e-cigarettes and putting users at an even greater risk. This seems especially ironic, since most users are choosing e-cigarettes to be healthier.
The majority of Shenzen companies are preparing for regulation, but they are doing so in different ways. While some companies are just ramping up their output now to prepare for the stop in production that could be coming, some are establishing overseas branches to make e-cigarette components, especially e-liquids, which are under the most scrutiny when it comes to their country of origin. Chinese companies that are more reputable and able to manufacture in places like the United States can ensure that their e-liquids are made in labs that have passed FDA quality control standards.
Joyetech, is one of those companies based in China that is moving production facilities to the United States. “A lot of people don’t trust the air or water in China,” said Qiu Weihua, CEO at Joyetech e-cigarettes, “so why would they trust our e-liquid?” The truth is, less people are.
Until regulation is passed and implemented the only safeguard is to be a smart consumer. Ask friends and experts, research and stay informed. For the time being if you want to ensure that your e-liquid is made in a facility that is quality controlled, consider USA made. However, it’s not necessary to buy only USA made, as long as you know the manufacturer you are buying from and ensure they have a good track record. Websites are an excellent resource to hear from other users what products they have used and trust. Being an educated consumer is just a smart choice to ensure that your vaping experience is always safe and as healthy as possible.