Parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha gave their nod to the Centre’s decision to ban e-cigarettes, even as some lawmakers expressed concerns about continued tobacco use in the country.
The Government of India issued an ordinance earlier this year prohibiting electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) from being produced, manufactured, distributed, imported, exported, stored, sold, and advertised in India. The ordinance was incepted “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,” Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said during the announcement of the prohibition.
Earlier this week, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan introduced the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha. MPs approved the Bill by voice vote.
“E-cigarettes cause attention, learning and anxiety disorders in adolescents,” Vardhan tweeted. “It also furthers the risk of cardiovascular diseases. I would urge smokers NOT to try unapproved nicotine alternatives. [Please] quit smoking completely.” Addressing MPs, Vardhan said that ENDS may be “less harmful” than conventional tobacco products, “but it does not mean that it is not harmful.”
Even as MPs offered their approval to the Government’s ban on ENDS, concerns were expressed by some MPs about the continued use of tobacco by significant portions of the population. “The government had brought the bill which concerns a miniscule population and 99.98 percent [of] people had been left out,” said Dum Dum MP Saugata Roy of the All India Trinamool Congress.“ The bill does not touch people who smoke cigarettes or consume gutka or chewing tobacco.”’
Similarly, Bijnor MP Malook Nagar of the Bahujan Samaj Party said that e-cigarettes were devices of the affluent and so the scope of the Bill would fail to address the health concerns resulting from tobacco use by those of lower socioeconomic classes. “The question is [does the] Government wants to save the poor or the rich,” he queried. Berhampore MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Indian National Congress echoed calls for conventional tobacco products to be looked at.
The ban has been controversial, with some health experts raising concerns that eliminating e-cigarettes robs smokers of a potentially useful tool to quit smoking. After MPs acceded to the ban, the stocks of some tobacco companies experienced a rise. A similar uptick was seen when the ordinance banning ENDS was announced.
The Union Health Ministry urged state and union territory governments in August last year to take steps to ban ENDS, after which a number did so. With the Lok Sabha having approved it, the e-cigarette ban looks posed to remain in place.