News Brief

As India’s ‘E-Cigarette Daydream’ Goes Up In Smoke, Here’s The Whole Story Behind The Ban

The e cigarette manufacturers are accused of targeting kids with a variety of flavours and packaging style (Source: Twitter)

Union cabinet on Wednesday approved the Promulgation of the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement) Ordinance, 2019.

Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes are defined as battery-operated devices that produce aerosol by heating up a liquid that contains nicotine. Nicotine is the addictive substance in the normal combustible cigarettes. These include all kinds of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, Heat Not Burn Products, e-Hookah and the like devices.

Since the above devices do not contain tobacco and hence are out of the purview of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, there was a regulatory vacuum regarding e-cigarettes. The ordinance aims to fill this regulatory vacuum.

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The union health ministry had issued an advisory last year asking states' drug controllers not to approve any new e-cigarettes and restrict the sale and advertisements of e-cigarettes. The e-cigarette makers challenged the advisory, and Delhi and Bombay high courts imposed a stay on the ban. This prepared the ground for an ordinance.

Provisions

The ordinance bans production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale (including online sale), distribution or advertisement (including online advertisement) of e-cigarettes. These will be cognisable offences under the statute.

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For the first offence a person would be liable for one year jail or Rs 1 lakh fine. For subsequent offences, imprisonment of up to three years and fine up to Rs 5 lakh is provided.

Storage of electronic-cigarettes shall also be punishable with an imprisonment up to 6 months or fine up to Rs 50,000 or both. After the commencement of the Ordinance, the owners of existing stocks of e-cigarettes will have to suomoto declare and deposit these stocks with the nearest police station.

The Sub-Inspector of Police will be designated as the authorised officer to take action under the Ordinance. Other equivalent officers can be designation as authorised officers for enforcement of the provisions of the Ordinance.

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Sixteen states and a Union Territory have already banned the e-cigarettes.

Rationale

“Envisioned as a tool to combat tobacco addiction, electronic cigarettes and other vaping products have become a major problem and increase the risk of children adopting them,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at a media briefing.

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She further added that the available data showed that their misuse was high among students, and if not banned, e-cigarettes would undermine the efforts taken by the government towards tobacco control.

World Health Organisation also doesn’t endorse e-cigarettes as cessation aids and available literature suggests that they mere act as gateways to induce non-smokers to nicotine use.

The Indian Council of Medical Research had also recommended a complete ban on them. It cited several studies showing that e-cigarette usage may cause DNA damage, carcinogenic, cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity, respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders, and adverse impact on fetal development and pregnancy.

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The Finance Minister also noted that there are more than 400 brands of e cigarettes, none of which is manufactured yet in India.

Recent cases

The Ordinance comes at the heels of outbreak of ‘mysterious illness’ related to vaping which has engulfed 530 people and caused seven deaths in United States (US) till date,

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US health officials said that there were 530 confirmed and probable cases and seven deaths from severe lung-related illnesses tied to e-cigarettes, and there are no signs that the mysterious outbreak is easing.

The doctors said that the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury, with the lungs apparently reacting to a caustic substance. Reportedly, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now investigating 150 vaping products and substances.

In the US, one out five high school teenager is vaping and it is reaching epidemic proportions. The e-cigarette manufacturers are also accused of deliberately targeting children with a variety of favours like mango, fruit, creme, mint, menthol and cucumber, as well as the packaging design.

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US President Donald Trump has already unveiled plans for a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes to protect “innocent children”. Meanwhile, vaping has drawn criticism from several national health agencies as well as transnational bodies.

Reaction

While some have welcomed the ban as a progressive step, others criticised it.

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The Association of Vapers India (AVI), an organisation that represents e-cigarette users across the country called the move ‘a black day’ for 11 crore smokers in India who had been deprived of safer options.

“The government may be patting its back for banning e-cigarettes but this is a draconian move considering the risk to the health of crores of smokers,”said Samrat Chowdhery, AVI director and harm reduction advocate.

Others viewed the step as paternalistic and intrusive. Questions regarding the real motive behind the ban were also raised, accusing the government of being influenced by the tobacco lobby- cigarette manufacturers and tobacco farmers.

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