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Draconian Move, Says Trade Bodies and Users After Ordinance to Ban E-cigarettes

While first time violators will face a jail term of up to one year and a fine of Rs one lakh, for subsequent offences, a jail term of up to three years or a fine of Rs 5 lakh or both have been prescribed.

PTI

Updated:September 18, 2019, 6:26 PM IST
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Draconian Move, Says Trade Bodies and Users After Ordinance to Ban E-cigarettes
Image for representation.

New Delhi: E-cigarettes promoting trade bodies, users and other stakeholders on Wednesday slammed the government's move to ban the "alternative" smoking device through the ordinance route, alleging it was a "draconian" step taken in haste to protect the conventional cigarette industry.

They also alleged that the government was depriving people of a safer alternative to smoking.

Their response came after the Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved an ordinance making the production, import, export, transport, sale, distribution or advertisements of electronic cigarettes a cognizable offence, amid a raging debate over claims of harm reduction aspects of such products.

While first time violators will face a jail term of up to one year and a fine of Rs one lakh, for subsequent offences, a jail term of up to three years or a fine of Rs 5 lakh or both have been prescribed.

Those supporting e-cigarettes are arguing that they are less harmful than smoking tobacco, but the government contends that they pose health risks similar to those caused by conventional cigarettes, especially among the youth, and initiate nicotine addiction among non-smokers also.

Association of Vapers India (AVI), an organisation representing e-cigarette users, said it is a black day for 11 crore smokers in India who have been deprived of safer options.

"The ordinance will put lives at risk. The haste shown by the government in enacting a ban indicates it is more concerned about protecting the cigarette industry than improving public health," said Samrat Chowdhery, AVI director and harm reduction advocate.

"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.

"From the start, the government has not been considerate about public health or public welfare, backing biased scientific evidence which has been rebutted by scientists from across the world for cherry-picking and misinterpreting research to target Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS)," he alleged.

Praveen Rikhy, Convenor of TRENDS (Trade Representatives of ENDS), said the ban on e-cigarettes on basis of "selective sourcing of scientific and medical opinion" and without holding a single stakeholder meeting is nothing short of a "complete murder of democratic norms".

"All our representations sharing best practices from other countries - 70 developed countries have allowed regulated sale of e-cigarettes - have been completely ignored.

"Also noteworthy here is the influence of powerful tobacco lobbies and anti-tobacco lobbies and how they have converged in an unusual confluence of interests," Rikhy said.

The TRENDS , comprising importers, distributors and marketers of alternative smoking devices, said they will now initiate a formal campaign to help MPs understand the issue, clarify "misapprehensions and misinformation spread by lobby groups" and support the farmer groups which see the growth of e-cigarette sector as a global market opportunity for nicotine.

We will continue to fight for the rights of e-cigarette users and smokers looking to quit or reduce harm to themselves. Apart from exploring legal options, we will also raise the issue at national and international forums. The government has snatched the right of India's 11 crore people to harm reduction. This cannot be allowed to happen," Chowdhery said.

Bringing an ordinance shows the "high-handedness" of the government, said Dr Farrukh Khan, partner at Diwan Advocates and legal head in pro-THR litigation.

"The ordinance is ultra vires to the constitutional framework. This has deprived people of their freedom of choice. The government should have thought about it progressively and in the larger pursuit of public policy on health. Still, we would demand that the government overturn its decision and think with a larger perspective of regulating e-cigarettes," he added.

The government "acted blindly", that too based on "biased" research and without any studies conducted in India, allged Kanav Rishi Kumar, a Delhi-based entrepreneur who quit smoking through vaping.

"The ordinance brought by the government favours the tobacco lobby and disregards people's freedom to choose an alternative. I think now all the vapers should come forward for their rights and raise a voice against the ordinance," he said.

The ordinance brought by the government is based on misconceptions and lacks understanding of the concept of harm reduction, said Dr Bharat Gopal, senior pulmonologist and Director National Chest Centre, New Delhi said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India is home to 12 per cent of world's smokers. More than 10 million people die each year due to tobacco use in India.

A recent study claimed the tobacco industry in India, including cigarettes, is a Rs 11.79-lakh-crore sector, sources said.

The ordinance will come into force once approved by the President. It will be converted into a bill in the next session of Parliament.

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