The e-cigarette industry has appealed against the proposed ban on the devices, calling on regulation instead of outright prohibition.
With the Centre in position to initiate a blanket ban on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) by classifying them under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, the Trade Representatives of ENDS in India (TRENDS), an association of representatives for the industry, has appealed by writing to Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and Delhi Health Minister Satyender Jain. “Studies done by a few research institutions in the west have shown that consumption of e-cigarettes, which contain far less harmful products, can help a smoker slowly give up smoking instead of relapsing to smoking cigarettes,” said Praveen Rikhy, TRENDS convener.
Rikhy said the government should conduct “scientific research” into ENDS and their side-effects. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has already stated its position that ENDS carry the same health risks as conventional cigarettes, although the industry and other research disputes this assertion. Meanwhile, the overall body of evidence is mixed. Some claim that the devices can be an effective smoking cessation device; others state they are a gateway into nicotine addiction for young people, a concern expounded by the ICMR in a white paper.
“The battle to ban e-cigarettes and other ENDS has been waged for almost a year, ever since the Union Health Ministry directed state governments in August last year to enact bans against the devices. Multiple states and union territories have since followed suit – much to the consternation of the e-cigarette industry.”
In an article recently published in The Economic Times, Rikhy deemed prohibition a “regressive step” and ill-informed as “the reality is, and everyone knows this, that blanket bans don’t work… all such prohibitory orders succeed in doing is pushing the products underground, giving rise to a flourishing ‘grey’ market, in which the unscrupulous dealers are the king and the customers are forced to consume sub-standard and spurious products, at exorbitant prices.” Already, an e-cigarette black market has been revealed to have been operating in India in the last three years. A blanket ban could potentially exacerbate this illicit trade.
Instead, Rikhy argues for a set of regulations and restrictions similar to those imposed on conventional tobacco products. These include regulations on nicotine strength and the size of devices’ tanks and e-liquid bottles; “risk-appropriate” taxes and health warnings; imposing penalties for violating age restrictions; banning the devices’ sale in close proximity to schools; and making sure that only licensed vendors can sell the products.
The battle to ban e-cigarettes and other ENDS has been waged for almost a year, ever since the Union Health Ministry directed state governments in August last year to enact bans against the devices. Multiple states and union territories have since followed suit. Most recently, the Gujarat Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a bill banning ENDS following the state government’s announcement that it would do so, citing the dangers to young people.
In doing so, Gujarat joined states including Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh. Meanwhile, states where e-cigarettes have not been banned have been pressured to do so. The Delhi High Court asked the Delhi government why it had not taken the step despite earlier pledging to do so, whilst non-government organisations and consumer groups have pleaded with Goa to impose a ban.
Whether the advocacy of the e-cigarette industry will bear fruit remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the controversy surrounding e-cigarettes in India is far from ending soon.