China's first nationwide smoking control law should also cover electronic cigarettes, which have been gaining popularity worldwide, to better protect the public, anti-smoking campaigners said.
The call came after the State Council's legislative affairs office publicized a draft law on smoking control last week, seeking public comment.
The law would ban the smoking of tobacco products at all indoor public areas and prohibit all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
"It doesn't cover the e-cigarette, which might be a problem in the future," said Xiao Lin, a senior public health specialist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at a seminar held by the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control.
Currently, e-cigarettes are not as popular in China as in the West, where controls on smoking traditional cigarettes in public have been strictly implemented, according to Gan Quan, the China director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.
However, he said, "We've seen an increasing popularity of e-cigarettes here, especially among young people."
In August, the World Health Organisation issued a report that recognised public health threats posed by e-cigarettes and urged national governments to strengthen regulation of the devices.
It called for bans on the indoor use of e-cigarettes, saying the exhaled vapour from them could increase air levels of some toxins, and also on the devices' advertising and promotion and sale to minors. The market for the cigarette substitutes is valued at $3 billion worldwide.
Gan said that China has no rules regulating e-cigarettes, which use battery-powered cartridges to produce flavored vapours, with or without nicotine, and that people can easily buy them online.
Invented in 2003 as a substitute for normal cigarettes, the e-cigarette soon gained popularity in the United States and Europe, where they are subject to fewer regulations.
More than 70 per cent of the devices sold worldwide are produced in China.
"The Chinese government should note this trend and take preemptive measures to prevent the product from becoming big in China," Gan said.
Xu Guihua, executive deputy director of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, agreed and urged research on the products to guide future regulation.
China has more than 300 million smokers, and another 740 million people are exposed to secondhand smoke each year, official statistics show.
Nationwide, a dozen cities have introduced legislation to control smoking in public places at local levels, but implementation overall is poor, Xu said.