Cabinet likely to discuss matter on e-cigarette ban: Health Ministry sources

The Union Cabinet is likely to discuss the matter on the e-cigarettes ban through Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance 2019, sources at the Union Health Ministry said.

One of the main priorities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led central government in the first 100 days was to ban e-cigarettes which are said to be the main cause for nicotine addiction among youth.

Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices used to smoke or 'vape', a flavoured solution containing nicotine, an addictive chemical found in cigarettes which are harmful to health.

Based on the hazardous effects of e-cigarettes on health, the Health ministry has codified a draft with strict rules and laws on e-cigarettes called 'The Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance 2019' to stop the unexpected growth of e-cigarette market in India which is unregulated so far. The draft ordinance was further sent to the Group of Minister's (GOM) to examine its various aspects.

TheGOM has discussed with the health ministry: "At present, there is no legislation available to deal with these hazardous products."

On provisions related to search and seizure operations, it has been further discussed that there will be authorised officers to keep a vigil on sale, distribution and usage of e-cigarettes.

"Authorised officer can conduct search and seizures. He has the power to seize property, stocks, records in offences," GOM discussed.

According to the top sources in the ministry, "The health ministry wants to stop the mushrooming stage of e-cigarettes and avoid any damage in the interest of the public which is unaware of the health hazard of such devices like vape/Juul/pods. The discussion of GOM has been done and hopefully, it will be taken up in the next cabinet meeting."

The draft ordinance to ban the e-cigarettes includes the strict prohibition on production, import, distribution, sale and use of electronic cigarettes along with imprisonment and penalty for violators.

In the draft ordinance, the health ministry has proposed maximum imprisonment of up to one year along with the penalty for offenders.

A few months back, the ICMR released a white paper based on over 200 international studies demanding a complete ban on e-cigarettes. It stated that Nicotine is considered as one of the most addictive substances making a potential risk of a person being addicted to it throughout life.

In a white paper, the ICMR said e-cigarettes adversely affect the cardiovascular system, impairs respiratory immune cell function and airways in a way similar to cigarette smoking and is responsible for severe respiratory diseases.

Professor Balram Bhargava, Secretary, Department of Health Research, Government of India and Director General ICMR, New Delhi said, "Given the extent of harmful health effects of e-cigarettes to the users as well passive exposure and multiple faces of the ENDS or e-cigarettes use epidemic around the world where it was introduced, if no appropriate interventions are taken at the right time by bringing together all stakeholders under one umbrella to prevent this impending epidemics of e-cigarettes use, it can lead to a public health disaster in India."

However, Vape Association of India and representatives of Vape industry are opposing this move of the government and urging them to regulate e-cigarettes instead of a total ban.

Dr SK Arora, Additional Director (Health) at Delhi government said: "E-cigarettes contain harmful substances and its emissions are carcinogenic. It leads to second hand smoking/ emission. Moreover, there are no long term studies to prove any safety profile of ENDS. Such devices shouldn't be offered to public. Labeling ENDS as cessation device is unethical and may lead to dual addiction."

States like Punjab, Karnataka, Kerala, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Mizoram have already banned use and sale of e-cigarettes, vape and e-hookah.