The controversy over the e-cigarette industry in India shows no signs of abating as staggering numbers of illegal brands have been revealed to have been sold in the country over the last three years.
Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) – popularly known as e-cigarettes or ‘vapes’ – have been the subject of much political scrutiny in India in recent months. The Union Health Ministry last year directed state governments to ban the devices from being made, imported, sold, and distributed.
That missive was stayed by the Delhi High Court in March but the controversy has continued. The Union Trade Ministry has also frustrated efforts to ban e-cigarette imports, asserting in April that there is “no legal basis” on which to do so.
The revelation from a survey by Consumer Voice that 36 e-cigarette companies have been operating outside of the law could be seen to vindicate the Union Health Ministry’s position against an unscrupulous industry. Arguably, however, it could also suggest that a blanket ban on ENDS will only encourage their illicit sale and usage. The brands in question are being sold either by vendors illicitly or online, outside of a robust regulatory framework, in locations including Delhi, Lucknow, and Mumbai.
“During the survey, we found that there was no MRP [maximum retail price] printed on the packet in case of almost all the brands,” said Ashim Sanyal, the chief operating officer and secretary of Consumer Voice. “While the government is officially trying to ban it from entering India, it is already available illegally.”
Concerns over e-cigarette use is that they contain nicotine and so could addict those who buy it, particularly young people. Indeed, Consumer Voice found that the buyers of the illicit e-cigarette brands mainly belonged to the 12-25 age demographic. Some argue that e-cigarettes can be useful as a tool to help smokers quit the habit. However, others suggest ENDS can act as gateways to tobacco addiction – a perilous potentiality in a nation where lung disease is spreading and one million lives are lost every year to tobacco-related illnesses.
Ensuring the e-cigarette industry is properly regulated – in order to prevent unlicensed sale and a new generation of nicotine addicts is vital – if it establishes a presence in India. The Union Health Ministry is endeavouring to prevent this from being the case. Until that is the case, regulation is the need of the hour.