Govt ban on E-Cigarettes: Amid mixed reactions, Industry body calls it ironic

As the union government finally bans E-cigarettes, the industry body representing its manufacturers and distributors says a safer alternative to smoking is sought to be banned while the more dangerous product will continue to be sold

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New Delhi: The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi on 18th September approved the ban on the production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage, and advertisement of E-Cigarettes in the country.

As per the union government, the decision to prohibit e-cigarettes will help protect the population, especially the youth and children, from the risk of addiction through E-cigarettes.   Enforcement of the Ordinance will complement government’s efforts for tobacco control and will help in the reduction of tobacco use and reduction in associated economic and disease burden.

Electronic-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that produce aerosol by heating a solution containing nicotine, which is the addictive substance in combustible cigarettes. These include all forms of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, Heat Not Burn Products, e-Hookah and the like devices. These novel products come with attractive appearances and multiple flavours and their use has increased exponentially and has acquired epidemic proportions in developed countries, especially among youth and children.

Upon promulgation of the E-Cigarette Ordinance, 2019, any production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale (including online sale), distribution or advertisement (including online advertisement) of e-cigarettes shall be a cognizable offence punishable with an imprisonment of up to one year or fine up to Rs 1 lakh or both for the first offence; and imprisonment of up to three years and fine up to Rs 5 lakh for a subsequent offence. Storage of electronic-cigarettes shall also be punishable with imprisonment up to 6 months or fine up to Rs 50,000 or both.

Industry body calls the decision erratic

Reacting to the decision, the trade body representing importers, distributors, and dealers of E-Cigarettes, TRENDS stated that taking the ordinance route itself was clear evidence of the fundamental unsustainability of the Government’s position.

Praveen Rikhy, Convenor of TRENDS said, “We believe that the Health Ministry ran with this proposal to ban on a selective basis, refusing to meet stakeholders, and was defeated in courts and therefore managed to scrape an Ordinance to ban it. This does not look good.”

TRENDS have been at the forefront of the resistance to ban E-Cigarettes on basis of what it called ‘selective sourcing of scientific and medical opinion’. TRENDS have made over 15 representations to the Health Ministry but Ministry officials refused to meet them.

The association has made several attempts to point out that close to 70 countries have allowed regulated sale of E-Cigarettes and those world renowned institutions such as the NHS of UK has encouraged hospitals to open Vape shops, where E-Cigarettes are sold to patients.

Since E-Cigarettes do not contain Tar they are proving to be a much safer alternative for smokers. India has one of the highest smoking populations in the world. “This decision of the government is strange – it’s like saying we will remove the safer product from the market, and allow the more dangerous one to be sold,” said Rikhy.

Responding to the recent support extended by the Gujarat Tobacco Growers and merchants to E-Cigarettes, Rikhy said, “The Gujarat farmers were enthused about the category. Some farmer groups who have nothing to do with Nicotine grade tobacco farming are trying to create a controversy. The Government of India and Gujarat should have seized this opportunity to make India a leader in Nicotine production by now”.

Speaking in the aftermath of the decision by Government to effect a ban through an Ordinance, Rikhy said that TRENDS is convinced of the merits of E-Cigarettes and we will now initiate a formal campaign to help MPs understand the issue, expose the vested interests and support the farmer groups who see the growth of the E-Cigarette sector as a global market opportunity for Nicotine”.

Mixed reactions from stakeholders

Commenting on the move, Ms Savitha Kuttan, CEO, Omnicuris, social media enterprise which works for improving the quality of healthcare in India, said “Smoking is the modern malady of modern mankind that has killed innumerable young and worthy souls. To combat that e-cigarettes were invented as a certified measure to wean smokers out from this bad habit. Unfortunately, e-cigarettes have done the opposite, bringing in the onset of diseases Lung cancer, Stomach cancer, Bladder cancer, Esophageal cancer, Heart disease and respiratory diseases like emphysema, which causes difficulty breathing. Hence, the Union Cabinet’s ban of e-cigarettes has been a welcoming move.”

As per Dr G Prakash, Deputy CMO, Jindal Naturecure Institute, the introduction of e-cigarette was initially heralded as a welcoming move to wean out the smoking habit. “However, when the govt has decided to ban e-cigarette, it comes with mixed sentiments as although it helps chain smokers help get away from addiction yet one can often fall into a trap of using it as a tool of dependence,” he added.

Mr Rajesh Ranjan Singh, COO – WISH (Wadhwani Institute for Sustainable Healthcare) while hailing the move of the government commented, “E-cigarettes have nicotine and inhaling it can increase heart rate, raise your blood pressure, and lead to sudden cardiac events in rare cases. Solvents are the other major component in E-cigarettes. There are many brands of E-cigarettes that contain solvents that are carcinogenic and there is no quality check on their contents. People who want to quit smoking have to understand that e-cigarettes are just a stopgap mechanism, and a dangerous one. Most importantly, people can get addicted to e-cigarettes as well, and a ban on their sale is a sensible move by the government.”