New Delhi: Taking the route of an ordinance, the government has brought about a ban on the sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), commonly known as e-cigarettes.
The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has approved the promulgation of the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Ordinance, 2019.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that produce aerosol by heating a solution containing nicotine, which is the addictive substance in combustible cigarettes. These include all forms of electronic nicotine delivery systems, heat not burn products, e-hookah and the like devices. Using, selling, storing, importing and exporting such products now will attract a punishment of up to three years and a fine up to Rs 5 lakh for subsequent offences.
The move has been necessitated because the government’s advisors feel that use of vaping devices and other forms of ENDS is creating a new epidemic, something the government could totally do away with.
“It is a gateway product,” Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General, Professor Balram Bhargava, told News18. Bhargava has been associated with the white paper prepared by the ICMR on the basis of which the government promulgated the ordinance.
The government also said these products are usually marketed as being safer alternatives to conventional cigarettes, but such notions are false. An e-cigarette is usually promoted by the industry as a smoking cessation aid, but its efficacy and safety as a quitting aid has not yet been established.
Praveen Rikhy, convenor of TREND, the trade body representing importers, distributors and marketers of ENDS in India, said, “It is for the first time in the annals of this country’s policy-making that a draconian step such as an ordinance has been brought to bear on a product category without any reference to the trade, the science or the medical evidence available.”
TREND claimed there was no effort by the Ministry of Health to consult stakeholders or even look at the 15 representations they had made over two months.
However, Bhargava said that all stakeholders had a say. "In India, it is not about the few people having the knowledge of vaping and using e-cigarettes. Here, tobacco use has to be controlled,” he said, explaining why India cannot be compared to countries like the United Kingdom or Canada where the use and sale of e-cigarettes is regulated. Here, it is about an effort to control the use of tobacco, he added.
Sources in the government said they chose not to take the regulation route because regulatory mechanisms were not fool-proof. Moreover, a ban was required because it was a potential epidemic, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.
A conspiracy charge has also been leveled against powerful tobacco and anti-tobacco lobbies. “Here is the influence of powerful lobbies and how they have converged in an unusual confluence of interests,” Rikhy said.
Amir Ullah Khan, former deputy director and policy advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said users can make informed choices when there are legitimate alternatives. “Policy makers can regulate users and provide effectively,” he said, adding that banning e-cigarettes made little sense. “Bans will create black markets, encourage counterfeiting and smuggling.”
India, as a member-country of the World Health Organization (WHO), has taken the step in prohibiting the use of ENDS. The WHO does not endorse e-cigarettes as cessation aids. Banning alternative smoking devices like e-cigarettes was among the key priorities of the first 100-day agenda of the Narendra Modi-led government in its second term.