Illegal tobacco trading is rife online in China both via social media and e-commerce platforms, a health watchdog has warned. The Beijing Centre for Disease Prevention and Control released a report on Monday that said almost 52,000 advertisements and listings for tobacco products had been found on 14 social media and e-commerce platforms in the first half of last year. “Compared with traditional advertising, tobacco promotion on the internet uses methods such as sponsored content, which is more discreet,” the report said. China’s internet advertising regulations prohibit the online promotion of tobacco products. Selling cigarettes online is illegal as the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration bans the sale of tobacco across provinces and strictly controls the production, sale and import of the product. The social network Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, was highlighted as the platform where most of the banned promotion and selling were found, with nearly 43,000 adverts and listings, or 82 per cent of the total. The South China Morning Post found that tobacco advertising and direct selling proliferates on Weibo, where searching for terms such as “cigarettes” and “women’s cigarettes” yielded almost 1,300 results, many of them offering WeChat and QQ contact information. Five vendors found through Weibo offered various imported cigarettes such as Marlboro and South Korean brand Esse. One seller claimed his wares were smuggled into China from places like the US. Another offered refunds for products that were confiscated, but only if they were bought for delivery within the same province. A 10-packet carton of Kent cigarettes, an American brand, was selling for around 30 per cent less than the retail price in Beijing. ‘An extraordinary man’: China’s tobacco and orange king, entrepreneur Chu Shijian, dies aged 91 “A few days ago, cigarette sellers on Little Red Book began trending. People in different places have stopped. I’m still going, one step at a time,” a vendor calling herself “24 hours online cigarette hawker” wrote on her WeChat timeline on Wednesday. She was referring to media coverage of Little Red Book the e-commerce platform popular with influencers selling lifestyle products. Little Red Book, whose investors include Alibaba, the owner of the South China Morning Post , has pledged to remove as many as 95,000 adverts and listings for tobacco products found on the app on Tuesday in response to a report by newspaper Beijing Youth Daily . Searches for “cigarettes” or “women’s cigarettes” no longer yielded results on Thursday. “We are working hard to remove related content. We ask users to promptly report cases and work together to maintain order on the platform,” Weibo’s PR director Mao Taotao said. While advertising and online selling of tobacco are prohibited, e-cigarettes fall in a grey area. China’s tobacco agency has banned the sale of IQOS, a type of battery heated cigarette that delivers nicotine. However, regulations for non-nicotine vaporisers are less clear. These continue to be widely available online. “In China, even toilet paper has standards. There are none for e-cigarettes,” Li Enze, the industrial law committee secretary for the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, said. “I think there needs to be a total ban on the sale of e-cigarettes until standards and regulations are set.” E-cigarettes and vaporisers come in a variety of flavours and shapes to target women and young people, which poses a serious problem according to Li. Under-18s can easily purchase vaporisers online and can be induced to smoking the real thing, he said. Two sets of standards for e-cigarettes have been considered by the Standardisation Administration of China since 2017. However, both were proposed by organisations associated with the state tobacco monopoly, which Li deemed a conflict of interest.