After much debate, the Centre finally put a decisive end to the e-cigarette drama. On 18 September, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in a press conference in New Delhi that,
"“The Union Cabinet has given approval to ban e-cigarettes. It means the production, manufacturing, import/export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertising related to e-cigarettes are banned.”" - Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman
In a landmark decision, #Cabinet approves proposal to ban all forms of e-cigarettes including Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, Heat Not Burn Products, e-Hookah & the like devices in the country with immediate effect.#SwasthaBharat #CabinetDecision #ecigarettes #vaping pic.twitter.com/0RhrZMcH0o— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) September 18, 2019
Interestingly, she also said that the government hopes to pass an ordinance on the ban in the next session of the Parliament but the ban will be in effect immediately.
The Move Was Made in Public, Youth Health Interest
First, what exactly are e-cigarettes and how are they different from regular cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that contain varying degrees and concentrations of vaporized nicotine. They take many forms and can look like pens, regular cigarettes and even USB drives - sleek and tiny.
The key difference between them and regular cigarettes is that the former does not contain tobacco and the many other harmful chemicals found in commercial cigarettes. However, the issue with this is that the unregulated use of e-cigarettes means that it is easy to put any liquid, even other harmful drugs, inside the device.
“E-cigarettes were promoted as a way to get people out of their smoking habits but reports have shown that many people are not using it as weaning mechanism but are addicted to it," said Sitharaman during the press conference.
One of the supposed advantages of e-cigarettes is their use as a cessation device, although Sitharaman added that they were used instead to attract the youth, who are increasingly using e-cigarettes.
"“Reports say that there are some who are probably getting into the habit of e-cigarettes as it seems cool.”" - Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman
Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, chief executive at Voluntary Health Association of India, an organisation that works for public health, was in full support of the move. “The decision to prohibit E-cigarettes will help protect our people, especially the youth and children from the risk of addiction through E-cigarettes. E-cigarettes pose significant health risks to users that are frighteningly similar to those of conventional cigarettes.hey are being marketed as a harm reduction product which is contrary to the truth.”
She added, “This decision is another feather in the cap and affirms Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji strong commitment to achieve health and wellness for the citizens of India.”
Stringent Punishments to Defying the Ban
Preeti Sudan, Secretary Health and Family Welfare was also addressing the press conference. She said, “the punishment proposed is imprisonment up to 1 year or a fine of up to Rs. 1 lakh, or both for the first offence.”
In case of any subsequent offenses, there would be “imprisonment of 3 years or a fine up to Rs. 5 lakhs or both.”
She added that these punishments also extend to E-hookahs.
But Not Everyone’s Happy
The government’s decision saw an uproar of reactions on social media, and not everyone agreed with the government’s latest move. From saying the government had “misplaced priorities” to questioning the use of an ordinance, there were many detractors to the move.
Anupam Manur, Research Fellow at Takshshila Institution, said that
"“It seems strange that the government is deciding to hastily issue an ordinance to ban e-cigarettes and ENDS, which less than 3% of India’s population are aware of or use, as opposed to 120 million tobacco users in the country. It also seems that the Government has its priorities misplaced when it made banning of e-cigarettes a part of its 100-day agenda as opposed to health priorities that concern a sizeable mass of the population.”"
Many questioned the rationale behind banning only e-cigarettes and not taking action on cigarette and tobacco products as a whole.
Amir Ullah Khan, Former Advisor, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation/ Wadhwani Foundation opined that “Public Health is a state subject and by passing an ordinance the central government is taking away the state’s inherent right to regulate a category as per the state’s own needs.”
People took to Twitter to question the move, with some saying that it revealed the government's hypocrisy and the influence of Big Tobacco, while others used the opportunity to comment on the growing list of new laws the government is instituting.
The #ecigarettes ban would've gone differently if Indian tobacco companies owned large stakes in e-cig companies ??♀️— Nehmat Kaur (@nehmatks) September 18, 2019
Millennials in India:— Somesh Jha (@someshjha7) September 18, 2019
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