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Episode Info: In episode 45 of TechBuzz China, co-hosts Ying-Ying Lu and Rui Ma talk about the rise of what has been touted as “the next big trend” in China tech: electronic cigarettes. Despite being criticized as a trap for entrepreneurs and investors alike, as well as concerns around ethical considerations, a large number of high-profile hardware entrepreneurs and consumer internet executives in China have jumped into the fray. Although China has yet to birth a decacorn in this sector like U.S.-based Juul, which is now valued at $38 billion, our co-hosts bet that at least one unicorn will emerge. After all, a recent research report by China’s Sinolink Securities projected the size of the domestic e-cig market to reach over $4 billion in the next four years — in many ways, we are only at day zero as measured against the market potential.   Rui and Ying-Ying begin by explaining that since smartphone purchases in China have slowed, a lot of the wealth and entrepreneurial talent that was focused on that product has shifted to four newer consumer electronics categories: smart speakers, wireless headphones, translating devices, and e-cigarettes. Our co-hosts comment that these product areas are similar to some of those that are getting major attention in Silicon Valley right now. In terms of e-cigarettes, most of the companies covered in this episode are very much like Juul in that they use a liquid cartridge to deliver nicotine. In contrast to electric smoking systems, which are a different category, e-cigs heat up — but do not burn — tobacco. While many Chinese articles reference both under the same label (电子烟), in this TechBuzz episode, Rui and Ying-Ying are only talking about the liquid cartridge device. Listen to find out: What are some of the factors that have contributed to the high, and growing, number of smokers in China? How is it that the country has one-third of the world’s smokers, but only accounts for 3 percent of the global e-cig market, despite also owning 90 percent of the world’s e-cig production? What inspired Han Li, a Chinese man and the first person to successfully commercialize the e-cigarette, to do so? What role does regulation — or the lack thereof, unlike in the 68 countries that have codified guidelines — play? Who are some of the celebrity entrepreneurs and well-regarded VC funds in China that have made a foray into the space? What role do WeChat mini programs, and other new marketing channels, have in the growth of this market? What about the impact of China’s state-owned media, CCTV, on both the telling of the story and on its outcomes? Importantly, how about ethical factors — how are these considerations affecting the moves, or non-moves, made by large internet players and top venture investors? At the end of the day, is the Chinese e-cigarette industry totally lit, or just a bunch of hot air? As always, you can find these stories and more at Do let us know what you think of th...
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