Recently, the Union Cabinet approved an ordinance prohibiting electronic cigarettes in the country. It makes production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement of e-cigarettes and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) such as vapes, e-hookahs and e-cigars a punishable offence.

What is the amount of punishment prescribed?
First-time offenders may face imprisonment of up to one year, a fine up to Rs 1 lakh, or both. Subsequent offences may lead to up to three years’ imprisonment and Rs 5 lakh in fine, while those found storing e-cigarettes and other such ENDS products will face up to six months in prison and up to Rs 55,000 in fines, or both.

What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a solution of nicotine and different flavours to create aerosol, which is then inhaled. These devices belong to a category of vapour-based nicotine products called ENDS. E-cigarettes and other ENDS products may look like their traditional counterparts (regular cigarettes or cigars), but they also come in other shapes and sizes and can resemble daily use products, including pens and USB drives.

Several companies selling ENDS in India have positioned these products as a safer, less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes or as devices that could help users quit smoking.

What is the size of the e-cigarettes market in India?
India’s vapour products market was nascent, but expected to experience rapid growth. It was valued at over $15 million in 2017, according to analyst reports, and projected to grow nearly 60 per cent a year up to 2022.

Why does the government want to ban these devices?
The Health Ministry and Central Drugs Standards Control Organisation, India’s drug regulatory authority, had attempted in the past to ban the import and sale of these products citing public health concerns. Before the ordinance was announced, the government had been facing hurdles in the form of court cases against the move, as ENDS were not declared as ‘drugs’ in the country’s drug regulations.

In May 2019, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) released a white paper stating that the uses of ENDS, or e-cigarettes, have “documented adverse effects” which include DNA damage; carcinogenesis (initiation of cancer formation); cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity; respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders. It also impacts foetal development and pregnancy, according to ICMR, which had recommended a “complete prohibition” of these products.

Who gains?
The government feels its decision will help “protect the population, especially youth and children, from the risk of addiction through e-cigarettes”. It says enforcement of the ordinance will complement its efforts to reduce tobacco use and, therefore, help in reducing the economic and disease burden associated with it.

Apart from this, traditional tobacco firms, too, could potentially gain from the ban. Share prices of some tobacco firms listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange like ITC, VST Industries, Golden Tobacco and even Godfrey Phillips India, which has its own portfolio of e-cigarettes for the Indian market, rose as much as 9 per cent intra-day. A closer look at the shareholding pattern of these companies shows that the central government, too, has the potential to benefit financially from this move, with central and state-owned firms making notional gains of nearly Rs 1,000 crore.

Does this mean traditional tobacco products are safer?
Traditional tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco are already known to be harmful.

US: Has the highest population of smokeless tobacco and vape-product users. Reports of over 400 hospitalisations and six deaths related to use of e-cigarette and vape uses. Plans to ban all e-cigarette flavours, except for tobacco.

China: Houses a third of the world’s smokers. Has reportedly seen an increasing population of vapers, especially young people. Announced in July 2019 that it plans to regulate e-cigarettes to strengthen supervision of these products.

Source: The Indian Express