Last Summer, the Union Health Ministry had prepared the Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance 2019 for review, and a bill replacing this ordinance was passed in Lok Sabha in January 2020. The latter officially banned the production, trade, transport, storage and advertisement of electronic cigarettes across India. Violators now face 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.
“Once black market industry gains a footover, it will be impossible to get control over it. The government missed a golden opportunity to regulate these products.”
Meanwhile, in line with countless arguments by anti-smoking and public health experts across the globe, local doctors had pointed 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.
To add insult to injury, the latest reports from India are showing that since the ban went into effect, people are still able to purchase vaping products from any paan (local tobacco) shop or online. The only difference is that the official and high quality brands can no longer be found, so young vapers are resorting to cheap and low quality versions.
A 23-year old seller told Business Insider that he buys his stock from Mumbai and sells it on Instagram sending it to his customers via Indian postal services. “I have been in the business for three years now. The only thing that the ban has changed is branded products are out of the market. I can still sell Chinese products which I usually buy from a black market in Mumbai.”
Banning a product drives consumers to the black market
In line with arguments by multiple public health experts who insist that making any product unavailable just drives people to the black market, Samrat Chowdhery from the Association of Vapers India, said that all the countries which banned e-cigarettes including Mexico, Brazil and Thailand, saw a booming black market.
“It is difficult to enforce regulations as Nicotine is available in all other forms. Formal players making e cigarettes are exiting the market. Once the black market industry gains a footover, it will be impossible to get control over it. The government missed a golden opportunity to regulate these products,” he said.
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