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E-cigarette ban comes into force: Boon or bane in the War on Tobacco?

An e-cigarette ban has finally been implemented in India, after the Centre has worked towards it for more than a year. 

An executive order banning electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) was approved by the Union Cabinet and an ordinance sent to President Ram Nath Kovind. The prohibition is likely to be introduced during the next parliamentary session for approval by lawmakers. 

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the ban in New Delhi, which encompasses “production, manufacturing, import/export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertising related to e-cigarettes.” The decision, Sitharaman explained, was undertaken “keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today” and “so we could take early action with regards to health of people.” 

Per the order, first-time violators of the law can be punished with up to a year in prison and/or a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh. Repeat offenders can be penalised with a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh. Even possession of ENDS will be a criminal offence – punishable by up to six months in prison and/or a fine of Rs 50,000. 

A selection of v. Image credit: (Sarah Johnson) [CC BY 2.0 (]
“E-cigarettes were promoted as a way to get people out of their smoking habits but reports have shown that many people are not using it as weaning mechanism but are addicted to it,” Sitharaman added. “Reports say that there are some who are probably getting into the habit of e-cigarettes as it seems cool. It is believed that there are more than 400 brands…And they come in over 150 flavours.” 

The Centre tabled the idea of a ban on ENDs in August last year, when the Union Health Ministry sent a directive to state governments urging them to ban the devices. ENDs were already banned in a number of states and, following the Centre’s directive, more states have imposed bans. However, the proposed national ban has faced opposition. 

“While the e-cigarette ban is intended in the interests of public health, some have refocused the narrative on tobacco products – arguing that while vaping is bad, conventional tobacco products pose a greater risk.”

A Delhi High Court ruling earlier this year stayed the Centre’s directive, citing a lack of legal basis to ban the devices. The e-cigarette industry and some oncology experts have criticised the decision on the grounds that a ban on the devices could frustrate efforts to curb rates of tobacco use in the country – given that e-cigarettes are often touted as a tool to help tobacco users kick the habit. They have also pointed to the potential for a black market to flourish should e-cigarettes be legally taken off the market. 

Nonetheless, a number of high-profile groups have voiced support for a ban on ENDS. Notably the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) released a white paper advocating for the prohibition, citing deleterious effects on health and the potential for a gateway effect into tobacco use once youths become addicted to nicotine after vaping. The Centre was able to clear the decks for a ban on ENDs after the Drugs and Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) reclassified the devices under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. A group of ministers chaired by Sitharaman reviewed a draft ordinance banning ENDS ahead of the ban’s announcement today. 

While the e-cigarette ban is intended in the interests of public health, some have refocused the narrative on tobacco products – arguing that while vaping is bad, conventional tobacco products pose a greater risk. In the aftermath of the e-cigarette ban’s announcement, companies such as the Indian Tobacco Company saw their stocks rise. It is important also not to forget the toll tobacco takes on public health. India loses US$1.04 trillion every year and one life every eight seconds to tobacco use. The body of evidence on e-cigarettes is evolving, whilst the negative health effects of tobacco products are widely understood. As such, regulation of ENDS in lieu of outright prohibition is seen by some as a viable middle-ground. 

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