Parliament passes bill to ban e-cigarettes

Representative Image. AFP photo

The Parliament on Monday put its stamp of approval on proposed legislation that prohibits storage, sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in India due to rising concerns on such devices' public health consequences.

 The Rajya Sabha passed the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage, and Advertisement) Bill, 2019, which was cleared by the Lok Sabha last week. The Bill was brought to replace an ordinance approved by the Union Cabinet in September.

Once the law comes into effect, any commercial activity involving e-cigarettes will be a cognizable offence punishable with an imprisonment of up to one year or fine up to Rs one lakh or both for the first offence. For a subsequent offence, the imprisonment term will go up to three years while the fine could be jacked up to Rs 5 lakhs.

Capping the debate in the Upper House, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said tobacco companies like Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands and Japan Tobacco International promoted e-cigarettes to capture the market as there is a declining trend in tobacco consumption, particularly among the youth.

 “Close to 96% of children between 15-29 years don't smoke. We are trying to save the 4% of our young population, which is being targeted by the tobacco companies,” he said.

 In response to the opposition criticism of bringing out the ordinance without adequate consultation, Vardhan said his ministry received 12,504 representations on e-cigarettes out of which 10,566 favoured the prohibition.

However, there was no punishment for the users in order to avoid criminialisation of the citizens, the minister said, hoping that with a ban on the trade of e-cigarettes and its refills the habit would die out soon.

Asked why the government didn't ban tobacco straightway, Vardhan said since 28% of people were associated with tobacco in one way or another, a more comprehensive view was needed.

The law comes in the wake of two expert committee reports including one from the Indian Council of Medical Research that unanimously recommended a ban because of the adverse health consequences of the electronic nicotine delivery systems.

 The report stated that globally there are more than 460 different e-cigarette brands with varied configuration of nicotine delivery available in the market with over 7,700 flavours.

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