Last Summer, the Union Health Ministry had prepared the Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance 2019, which was sent to the Cabinet for review. This measure proposed setting in place a maximum imprisonment of up to one year alongside a penalty of Rs 1lakh ($1,400) for first-time violators. While repeat offenders could face up to three years of jail and a penalty of Rs 5lakh ($7,000).
“There is data available regarding e-cigarettes as smoking cessation devices from the UK, so Indian studies should have been taken up by the government as well as health organisations.” Dr Bharat Gopal, Senior Pulmonologist and Director of the National Chest Centre, Delhi
A bill replacing this ordinance was passed in Lok Sabha earlier this month. The reviewed bill will prohibit the production, trade, transport, storage and advertisement of electronic cigarettes across India. It would provide for imprisonment of up to one year, or a fine of up to one lakh rupees, or both to a first time violator, and an imprisonment of up to three years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees, for any subsequent offence.
Health experts believe the ban will prove counterproductive
Meanwhile, in line with countless arguments by anti-smoking and public health experts across the globe, local doctors are pointing out that the government should have conducted more studies before banning the products. “There is data available regarding e-cigarettes as smoking cessation devices from the UK, so Indian studies should have been taken up by the government as well as health organisations,” said Dr Bharat Gopal, Senior Pulmonologist and Director of the National Chest Centre in Delhi.
“A lot of smokers come to us asking for alternatives so that they can quit smoking. Hence, the government should at least allow research and studies to be conducted on these alternatives so that in the future, this could be a tool for smoking cessation. A ban will also give rise to a black market and the government will not have any control over it. It would have been in the greater public interest if the government would have regulated e-cigarettes and allowed more research on harm reduction tools,” he added.
Dr Sree Sucharitha, a Researcher at Tagore Medical College in Chennai, added that the the whitepaper by Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) which proposed the ban, was biased. “There are many ex-smokers in India who moved to e-cigarettes because they failed with nicotine gums and patches, and now with the ban, they will be forced to go back to smoking. This is a regressive step taken by the government, which is often skeptical about new developments. This happened with vaccines, condoms, etc. in the past but the policies ultimately changed. The bill to ban e-cigarettes is a defeat for science,” she added.
Dr Aparajeet Kar from the Pulmonology Department of BLK Super Specialty Hospital, New Delhi, referred to the ban as an undemocratic move, “The bill to ban e-cigarettes is surprising in a country like India where so many deaths are reported due to smoking. The government has neglected the harm reduction benefits of e-cigarettes and has been relying only on the biased whitepaper of ICMR.”
“Those who gave up smoking with the help of vaping devices will now be vulnerable to diseases such as lung cancer, COPD, bronchitis, etc. as they will move back to conventional smoking due to non-availability of e-cigarettes. The government should have considered regulation as it has been done in various other countries, but banning is not a solution,” added Kar.
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