The Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sought the opinion of the state’s law and judiciary department on what legal provisions it can invoke to impose a ban on electronic cigarettes. The move comes after the regulatory body found it can neither term vaping devices as a ‘drug’ nor as a ‘food through which it can enforce such a ban.
E-cigarettes, also called electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), were invented in 2003 and became popular in India in the last decade. The hand-held device uses liquid nicotine or non-nicotine solution to inhale and give similar effects of smoking. Even as its health benefits have been debated, several countries including Europe and USA regulate its use. In India, Punjab is the only state to have banned e-cigarettes.
In 2016, the Maharashtra FDA had sought the opinion of the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) regarding e-cigarettes. In its meeting, the DCGI had decided that e-cigarettes would not be controlled under Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. “Nicotine 2 mg and 4 mg gums are registered drugs in India under this Act, but liquid nicotine is not. Since the DCGI does not consider it a new drug, we can’t apply the Drugs and Cosmetics Act to ban it,” an FDA official said. In the past few months, the FDA internally asked its food department to consider vaping devices as a food product to attract ban under the Food Safety and Standards Act.
“We are actively deliberating on it. But the smoke inhaled cannot be considered a food product, just like cigarettes,” said a joint commissioner at the FDA. FDA officials said that while the state was keen to ban the device, it had not been able to find a legislation to ban it. In June, the health department wrote to the FDA highlighting serious health concerns on account of e-cigarette use and asked for these to be regulated. Studies have suggested that liquid nicotine may be toxic and e-cigarettes can become a gateway towards smoking for youngsters.
In the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), Sulabha Parasuraman, attached with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, found that although e-cigarettes consumption was much lower, it was becoming increasingly popular amongst youngsters. “There is no huge consumption of e-cigarettes in surveyed population. But we did see a rising consumption from 2010 when the last GATS was conducted,” she said.
In its letter to the law and judiciary department, the FDA also suggested that nicotine sulfate is banned as a pesticide in India. Under Poison Act 1919, nicotine can also be banned, the FDA suggested. Punjab, the first Indian state to act against e-cigarettes, got its first conviction against suppliers of e-cigarettes in 2016. Dr Rakesh Kumar, deputy director in the health department of Punjab, told The Indian Express, “Nicotine in chewing gum form is permitted as drug for therapy, but since liquid nicotine is not a registered drug, we considered its sale illegal under Drugs and Cosmetics Act.”
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