Explaining the recent ban on e-cigarettes

By Gayatri Mann

On Wednesday, the government promulgated an Ordinance to ban electronic cigarettes in India. In this context, we look at what are electronic cigarettes, what are the current regulations in place, and what the Ordinance seeks to do.

What are electronic cigarettes?

The Ordinance defines electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as battery-operated devices that heat a substance, which may or may not contain nicotine, to create vapour for inhalation. These e-cigarettes can also contain different flavours such as menthol, mango, watermelon, and cucumber. Usually, e-cigarettes are shaped like conventional tobacco products (such as cigarettes, cigars, or hookahs), but they also take the form of everyday items such as pens and USB memory sticks.

Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and therefore are not regulated under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003. This Act regulates the sale, production, and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products in India, and prohibits advertisement of cigarettes.

What are the international regulations for e-cigarettes?

India is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which was developed in response to the globalisation of the tobacco epidemic. In 2014, the WHO FCTC invited all its signatories to consider prohibiting or regulating e-cigarettes in their countries. This was suggested due to emerging evidence on the negative health impact of these products which could result in lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and other illnesses associated with smoking.

Since then, several countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, and Thailand have banned the production, manufacture, and sale of e-cigarettes. Recently, the states of New York and Michigan in USA banned the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes. Whereas, in UK, the manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes has been allowed based on certain conditions. Further, the advertisement and promotion, and the levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes is also regulated.

Prior to the Ordinance, were e-cigarettes regulated in India?

In August 2018, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released an advisory to all states requiring them to not approve any new e-cigarettes and restrict the sale and advertisements of e-cigarettes. Based on this advisory, 15 states including Delhi, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh have since banned e-cigarettes. However, this advisory was challenged in the Delhi High Court in March 2019, which subsequently imposed a stay on the ban.

What does the Ordinance do?

The Ordinance prohibits the production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution and advertisement of e-cigarettes in India. Any person who contravenes this provision will be punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, or a fine of one lakh rupees, or both. For any subsequent offence, the person will be punishable with an imprisonment of up to three years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees.

Additionally, storage of e-cigarettes will be punishable with an imprisonment of up to six months, or a fine of Rs 50,000 or both. Once the Ordinance comes into force (i.e., on September 18, 2019), the owners of existing stocks of e-cigarettes will have to declare and deposit these stocks at the nearest office of an authorised officer. Such an authorised officer may be a police officer (at least at the level of a sub-inspector), or any other officer as notified by the central or state government.

Note that, the Ordinance does not contain any provisions regarding possession or use of e-cigarettes. The Ordinance will be in force for the next six months, and must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of the commencement of the next session of Parliament. If it is not passed within this time frame, it will cease to be in force.

This article was originally published by PRS Legislative Research

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Our Leader’s editorial policy.

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