Moving to ban e-cigarettes across the country, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Wednesday that the Union Cabinet has approved an Ordinance that prohibits the production, import, distribution and sale of electronic cigarettes, and proposes a jail term for violating the provisions.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that produce an aerosol by heating a solution containing nicotine, which is the addictive substance in combustible cigarettes.
The Promulgation of the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement) Ordinance, 2019, provides for imprisonment of up to one year or fines up to Rs 1 lakh or both for the first offence; imprisonment of up to three years and a fine up to Rs 5 lakh for a subsequent offence.
Storing e-cigarettes is punishable with imprisonment up to six months or a fine up to Rs 50,000 or both. Those with existing stocks of e-cigarettes on the date of commencement of the Ordinance will have to suo motu declare and deposit these stocks with the nearest police station.
The Centre, in a statement, said: “The decision to prohibit e-cigarettes will help protect population, especially the youth and children, from the risk of addiction through E-cigarettes. Enforcement of the Ordinance will complement government’s efforts for tobacco control and will help in reduction of tobacco use and reduction in associated economic and disease burden.”
Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan said: “Why are we debating whether it more or less harmful…it is a good move to ban it,” she told reporters at a Cabinet briefing.
Last year, the government had sent an advisory to all states to consider banning e-cigarettes. Sixteen states and 1 UT have already banned e-cigarettes.
TRENDS – the trade body representing importers, distributors, and dealers of e-Cigarettes – said in a statement that taking the Ordinance route itself was clear evidence of the fundamental unsustainability of the government’s position.
Praveen Rikhy, convenor of TRENDS, said, “We believe that the Health Ministry ran with this proposal to ban on a selective basis, refusing to meet stakeholders, and was defeated in courts and therefore, managed to scrape an Ordinance to ban it. This does not look good…We are confident that given a chance we will be able to explain to Hon’ble MPs across the country that ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) are a viable alternative to traditional tobacco burn cigarettes and that they are being increasingly mandated for legal sale by developed and progressive countries globally.”
The Centre’s decision comes at a time when governments across the world are taking a more stringent view of e-cigarettes. The decision is also backed by scientific reports, including a white paper brought out by the Indian Council of Medical Research, which pointed out that a typical e-cigarette cartridge contains “about as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes and can act as a potential source for nicotine addiction”.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that there are 380 cases of lung illness across the US.
Incidentally, the Centre’s move has support from tobacco farmers. Murali Babu, general secretary, Federation of All India Farmer Associations, said, “Tobacco farmers across India do not support these new generation products i.e e-cigarettes, Heat-not-burn etc. as extraction of nicotine from tobacco for products like ENDS happens largely outside India, from tobacco grown outside the country.”
“The use of ENDS in India would hugely impact the livelihood of Indian tobacco farmers. These farmers are already under stress due to excessive regulation and taxation. They would be further stressed by the introduction and marketing of these products, which do not use Indian Tobaccos.”