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The e-cigarette industry turns to the states

The e-cigarette industry in India has appealed to state governments for help following a national ban on the devices by the Centre. 

The Trade Representatives of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) argued that health falls within the purview of state governments as opposed to the Centre. Therefore, it should be state governments which decide what action to take against the industry. 

“The state health departments should seek the Centre’s nod for conducting a study and taking [an] independent decision on the use of e-cigarettes,” explained TRENDS convener Praveen Rikhy. “We have written to the chief ministers in this regard and are expecting responses from at least the non-BJP states.” TRENDS expressed hope that a “rational” decision by state governments would be arrived at should the Centre permit the states to undertake this course of action. 

Even before the Centre banned the production, distribution, transport, and import of e-cigarettes, numerous state governments and union territories had already banned the devices. A number did so following a missive from the Union Health Ministry issued last year, which called on state governments to ban e-cigarettes. Before that directive, such an action had already been taken by some states. 

In one example, TRENDS wrote to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stating “we would request you, as the leader of West Bengal, to ask the central government to allow your state health department to conduct its own research and study so that a rational decision benefitting maximum number of people of the state can be taken.”

The ban on e-cigarettes argues that they are deleterious to health and a gateway product which will addict young people to nicotine. “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,” Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said as she announced the ban in September. Agencies such as the Indian Council of Medical Research encouraged prohibition on the grounds of public health.

While the ban has been praised by some, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), it has elicited criticism from the e-cigarette industry who have called for regulation of the sector as opposed to a blanket ban. Fears of a black market springing up following the prohibition seem to have been realised in recent weeks, with reports of continued sales in some parts of the country. Others fear that the absence of e-cigarettes carves out a potentially useful smoking cessation tool, in a country which loses 932,600 lives to tobacco use every year.

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