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E-cigarette importers, vendors could face fines for 'banned drug'

2014/02/13 21:12:58

Taipei, Feb. 13 (CNA) Embraced by smokers as a way to kick their bad habit gradually, electronic cigarettes are receiving less of a warm reaction from Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which said Thursday that the high-tech surrogates constitute a banned drug in the country.

Smokers have nothing to worry about, as there are no rules in place to punish individuals for owning or using e-cigarettes, but importers, producers and sellers of the controversial devices could face fines -- even though none of them have been fined so far.

FDA Deputy Director-General Chiang Yu-mei said that smoking the battery-powered, tobacco-free devices in public places is not regulated under the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act because they are neither cigarettes nor illegal drugs, leaving law enforcement unable to take action.

She suggested that while smokers of e-cigarettes are not breaking the law, members of the public can report them regardless via the 1999 hotline to assist the government in tracking down the source of the devices.

Chen Hui-fang, an inspection chief at the FDA, explained that e-cigarettes are considered an unregistered prohibited drug in Taiwan. She noted that the devices are regulated as conventional cigarettes in the United States and France, while "it seems" they are also regulated in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health (now reorganized as the Ministry of Health and Welfare) in 2009 categorized e-cigarettes containing nicotine as a regulated drug as defined by the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act.

Under the current regulations, manufacturers or importers of e-cigarettes with nicotine could face a maximum fine of NT$10 million (US$330,000) and a prison sentence of up to 10 years, while vendors could face a fine of NT$5 million and up to seven years for providing drugs that have not been registered and obtained regulatory approval.

While some types do not contain nicotine, 31 out of 36 e-cigarette samples obtained online, from night market vendors or by customs officials last year were found to contain the habit-forming drug, Chen said.

Even dealing with nicotine-free e-cigarettes is liable for penalties under the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act, which stipulates that makers, importers and vendors of any "candies, snacks, toys or any other object shaped like cigarettes" could face fines of NT$10,000-NT$50,000.

While the devices have proven popular with smokers trying to quit, Chiang cautioned that vendors advertising e-cigarettes as a way to cure a smoking habit are liable for another fine on top of those already listed.

Vendors claiming that e-cigarettes help with addiction need to provide evidence from clinical trials or they could face steep fines of NT$600,000-NT$25 million.

The FDA said it will collaborate with the Health Promotion Administration to decide whether owning or using e-cigarettes should be a punishable offense and whether the devices can cause secondhand smoke or serious health issues for non-smokers.

(By Chen Ching-fang and Evelyn Kao)