Vaping devices continue to be sold on online sites and in shops more than a month after the ordinance against e-cigarettes, say several academics and other experts while stressing the need for awareness programmes targeting both consumers and traders.
On September 18, the government issued an ordinance making the manufacturing, production, import, export, distribution, transport, sale, storage or advertisements of alternative smoking devices a cognizable offence, attracting jail term and fine.
But a ban on any product also increases the chances of its illegal sale, especially in rural areas, and any change has to percolate down to local traders in tier 2 and tier 3 cities as well as those who consume the products, say legal and medical experts.
And the onus is on the government to ensure that people are educated about the reasons for the ban and the adverse impact on health, said Mukul Bajpai, associate professor in Clinical Microbiology at Guwahati's Base hospital.
There are many cases of traders selling the product just for the profit, ignoring the ill effects of it even if there is a blanket ban on it.
"The ordinance is undoubtedly a very good move in terms of banning the possible entry of combustible cigarette companies who have transformed into e-cigarette manufactures.
“However, the government has to understand that its vigil needs to be strengthened since the illegal sale of e-cigarettes flourishes whenever there is any such ban," Bajpai told PTI.
"Illegal trade flourishes mostly in remote part of the countries. Apart from that the products are still available on several online sites and shops,” Bajpai told PTI.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan recently noted that vaping was turning into an epidemic amongst the youth and allowing such products would have seriously undermined the government's tobacco control efforts.
According to Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2016-17, only four per cent of population in India smokes cigarettes. The other 96 per cent, especially youth and adolescents are at risk of nicotine addiction through the use of e-cigarettes.
Rigvardhan, professor of Pathology at the Saraswati Medical College in Lucknow, added that the campaign against e-cigarettes will continue.
“Also it's one thing to make a law but the real challenge will be to implement it effectively as we know 'electronic nicotine delivery system' (ENDS) are still available online and vaping is still a menace among youths."
The Indian Council of Medical Research in a recent white paper emphasised that use of ENDS or e-cigarettes has documented adverse effects on humans. These include DNA damage, carcinogenesis, cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity, respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders and adverse impact on foetal development, pregnancy, infant and child brain development
Bajpai said the government should have a programme in place under which government trained volunteers visit rural parts of the country and apprise traders about the ban since they are the ones directly contacted by illegal sellers.
In an article, E- Cigarettes: An Emerging Health Problem on Horizon, Bajpai and Rigvardhan have called for complete prohibition of e-cigarettes under the Drugs and Cosmetic act 1940, in accordance with the precautionary principle of protecting the population from a noxious substance.
Mandakini Sinh, president of the Mumbai-based National Health Forum, said small traders and all concerned persons, including law enforcement agencies, ought to be sensitised and made aware of the several kinds of e cigarettes and vaping products, which come in so many shapes and sizes and flavours.
"The government should enforce a full and complete ban on the implementation of the ban, including levy and collection of penalties provided under the ordinance. This would deter future users and retailers from initiating and/or continuing to retail these banned products,” she told PTI.
Talking about the illicit trade of banned products, she said some percentage of smuggled cigarettes and e-cigarettes and other vaping devices are escaping the net of the law enforcement agencies and are finding their way to the grey market.
"The destruction of all seized goods is imperative for the successful implementation of the law… it has been observed that in almost 100 per cent of the cases, the seized goods are released back into the market illegally. Therefore, the destruction of seized goods should be immediate, within 24 hours and in the public domain," she said.
Sinh, an advocate, also urged President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in conjunction with state health ministers, the law enforcement agencies and NGOs working in the field to take the initiative of organising a large scale drive on the matter.
M C Misra, former director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said the bigger challenge for the public in general and the government in particular is to see its enforcement across the nation. People will find ways to circumvent the ban.
"It is all about the vested interest of those who indulge in production to sale of these products. Again it raises the same question - making a law is one thing, its implementation is another aspect, which needs to be strengthened. It is like implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the amended motor vehicle act. Do we have enough manpower? Answer is simply No," he said. PTI RUP SAR MIN MIN