In a recent decision, the Government of India has decided to ban e-cigarettes over growing fears of health risks. The government has been assessing the harmful effects of Electronic Nicotine Delivery systems (hereinafter referred to as ‘ENDS’) for some time now. In March, 2018 WHO had reported that ENDS emits nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco products. Hence, considering the harmful effects of using E-Cigarettes, a circular was also issued by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) dated November 27, 2018 directing all Customs Authorities to ensure effective compliance of Centre’s advisory. The Delhi High Court, however, vide an order dated March 18, 2019 ordered a stay on the Circular as these products did not fall in the category of drugs as defined under Section 3(b) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
Thereafter, in a subsequent development, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi has now approved the promulgation of Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement) Ordinance, 2019. The decision of the Union Cabinet has made it a cognizable offence to import, manufacture, distribute, sell (including online sale) and advertise e-cigarettes and the same is punishable with an imprisonment of up to one year or fine up to Rs. 1 lakh or both for the first offence. Moreover, the ordinance also makes the storage of E-cigarettes a punishable offence. Thus, any person if stores any stock of e-cigarettes then he will be punishable with an imprisonment of upto 6 months or fine of upto Rs. 50,000 or more.
Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman who headed the group of ministers on this issue said that “Reports say that there are some who are probably getting into the habit of e-cigarettes as it seems cool. It is believed that there are more than 400 brands, none of which is manufactured yet in India. And they come in over 150 flavors.”
The Ordinance is scheduled to be approved by the Parliament when the next session starts in November this year. E-cigarettes uses a heating element to vaporize liquid nicotine which users inhale instead of burning tobacco. These products are not licensed in India and are marketed as a substitute to conventional cigarettes as the sellers claim that these are less harmful.
The proposal to ban e-cigarettes was a part of the 100 days agenda of the Modi Government. The Health Ministry’s paper on e-cigarettes says that “Available scientific evidence indicated that e-cigarettes and similar technologies that encourage tobacco are hazardous for an active as well as passive user. Pure nicotine, the main ingredient of e-cigarettes, and its chemical derivatives in extracted chemical form are highly addictive and poisonous and have a potential to cause death even in small quantities.”