Rajya Sabha members largely supported a bill to ban the use and sale of electronic cigarettes in the country, but some opposition lawmakers said the government should also consider restricting the use of raw tobacco and conventional cigarettes, which are more harmful.
Banning e-cigarettes alone will not help and if the government was really serious about the ill-effects of tobacco use, it should completely ban it across formats, which includes cigarette, beedi and gutkha and not single out e-cigarettes, some members suggested and pointed to "loopholes" in the bill.
Participating in a debate on the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale,Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Bill, 2019, Ripun Bora of the Congress said about 10 people die every second in the country due to tobacco-related diseases.
The Rajya Sabha passed the bill with voice vote. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on November 27.
The bill seeks to replace an ordinance the government had issued on September 18 banning the use of e-cigarettes.
Bora said India's 28.6 per cent population uses tobacco, which is the highest in the world. "The concern of the minister that it (e-cigarette) has impact on the health of the people is very much appreciable. But at the same time, not only e-cigarette but there are so many products in the market which are more injurious than e-cigarettes."
Citing reports, he said that e-cigarette is a new phenomenon and is less harmful than tobacco-made cigarettes.
"In India, 145 million people, which is 10.7 per cent of India's population, smoke beedi, cigarettes and use chewing tobacco and death rate is 1.2 million every year, which is an alarming situation," he said.
He termed it a "draconian bill" saying it has provisions that a police officer of the rank of sub inspector can arrest without warrant and conduct searches.
In his reply on the discussion on the bill, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told the House, "We have done it with very pious intention. There is no vested interest."
Nadimul Haque (TMC) said the mandate of the bill should be extended to all tobacco products including gutkha and pan masala. "Only banning e-cigarette should not be seen as a solution to the problem of smoking."
Vijila Sathyananth of the AIDMK said the government should ban all kind of cigarettes and also prohibit smoking at designated public places and close all such spots including inside the parliament complex.
Sathyananth also suggested to increase the legal age for smoking to 21 and ban counter sale of single cigarette.
Ravi Prakash Verma (?Samajwadi Party) said the issue needs a holistic approach as the government earns around Rs 30,000 crore annually as revenue from the sale of cigarette, while people spend around Rs 1 lakh crore on treatment of tobacco-related diseases.
He also suggested there should be a comprehensive ban on use of tobacco.
Vikas Mahatme of the BJP supported the bill, saying it would remove the root cause of the diseases related to use of e-cigarette.
Health bodies such as WHO and ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) have suggested to ban it, he said.
The Bill makes the manufacturing, production, import, export, distribution, sale, transport, storage or advertisements of such alternative smoking devices a cognisable offence, attracting a jail term and a fine.
First-time violators will face a jail term of up to one year and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
For subsequent offences, a jail term of up to three years or a fine of Rs 5 lakh, or both, will be imposed, according to the ordinance.
The storage of e-cigarettes shall also be punishable with imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 50,000, or both, it said.
The bill authorises officials to conduct searches on suspect premises and if such searches are not permissible, they may attach properties, stocks of e-cigarettes or records maintained by the manufacturer, producer, exporter, transporter, importer, stockist against whom a complaint has been made.
It says the owner or the occupier of the place that stocks e-cigarettes should submit the stock to the nearest authorised officer.
However, trade bodies promoting e-cigarettes, users and other stakeholders have been opposing the government's move, alleging it was a draconian step taken in haste to "protect" the conventional cigarette industry.
AAP member Sushil Kumar Gupta supported the bill.
Ram Chandra Prasad Singh (JD-U) said, "It is good that the government is trying to nip it in the bud. It is the right time to ban. But one issue it should keep in mind i.e. import of these products through online and grey market."
Raising objection to the ordinance, K Keshava Rao (TRS) said, "All are against the Ordinance process of making law. ...Nobody is against the bill, but there are some omissions and commissions. The commission is the bill, but we are not able to understand omission. ...We still support you on the bill, let us catch the threat early."
Rao further said 17 countries have regulations on e-cigarettes. India too can have regulations instead banning it.
Tiruchi Siva (DMK) said that even conventional tobacco is banned, but it is still in use as the government has provided "leeway" in rules to promote such products.
"This gives a feeling that it has been done not out of concern for people's health but to protect a particular industry. It is pathetic," he said and sought the reasons for banning e-cigarettes in haste.
Narendran Jadhav (Nom) said the bill has loopholes as it does not have any provision to penalise those who possess e-cigarettes.
R K Sinha (BJP) said the ban on e-cigarettes is essential as it is a strategy of a neighbouring poppy seed producing country to weaken India even though it is a separate issue to control the consumption of conventional tobacco.
He suggested that penalty on stockists should be raised.
B K Hariprasad (Cong) attacked the government over use of conventional tobacco and said even workers rolling beedis in factories are among the worst affected.
Santanu Sen (AITC) said, "We support it with a heavy heart. The bill remains silent on consumers."
K Somaprasad (CPI-M) also participated in the debate.