E-cigarette sales continue in India, despite a government ban on the devices.
Online vendors and stores continue to sell electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) more than a month after an ordinance was passed prohibiting them in the country. The fact that e-cigarette sales continue has elicited concern from some experts, who have encouraged the Government to take steps towards ensuring the ban is enforced.
“The ordinance is undoubtedly a very good move in terms of banning the possible entry of combustible cigarette companies who have transformed into e-cigarette manufacturers,” said Mukul Bajapi, an Associate Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the Base Hospital in Guwahati. “However, the government has to understand that its vigil needs to be strengthened since the illegal sale of e-cigarettes flourishes whenever there is any such ban.”
Dr Rigvardhan, a Professor of Pathology at Saraswati Medical College, concurred. “It’s one thing to make a law but the real challenge will be to implement it effectively as we know…ENDS are still available online and vaping is still a menace among youths.”
Similar issues were encountered previously in Haryana where, despite a ban being enacted against ENDS, online e-cigarette sales continued. In the aftermath of the national ban, it was found that e-cigarettes were still listed for sale by online retailers such as Amazon and Flipkart, both of which pledged to remove such listings from their websites.
Government officials have been encouraged to initiate a multisectoral, wholesale approach to enforcement of the ban. However, some observers have flagged a lack of human resources in being able to implement the ban. “Do we have enough manpower?” queried former All India Institute of Medical Sciences director M. C. Misra. “The answer, simply, is no.” This may make enforcement of the ban in rural areas difficult, where Bajpai claims illegal e-cigarettes sales “[flourish].”
“The ban has been critiqued from numerous quarters – with one criticism of a blanket ban being that it would lead to a black market wherein e-cigarette sales continued but outside of the purview of government regulation…On the basis of recent reports, such fears seem to already have begun to manifest in reality.”
Transportation, storage, production, and distribution of e-cigarettes were banned in September on the grounds of public health. Numerous bodies have called attention to potential adverse effects of e-cigarette use, including the Indian Council of Medical Research which associated the devices with numerous deleterious impacts on health including “DNA damage; carcinogenic, cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity; respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders; and adverse impact on fetal development and pregnancy”, in a white paper advocating a blanket ban.
In announcing the ban last month, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the Centre was taking action “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.” Questioning the value of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device, she argued “e-cigarettes were promoted as a way to get people out of their smoking habits but reports have shown that many people are not using it as weaning mechanism but are addicted to it.”
However, the ban has been critiqued from numerous quarters – with one criticism of a blanket ban being that it would lead to a black market wherein e-cigarette sales continued but outside of the purview of government regulation. Even before the ban, unregulated ENDS were being sold illicitly in India over a three-year period.
“The reality is, and everyone knows this, that blanket bans don’t work,” Praveen Rikhy, convener of the Trade Representatives of ENDS in India, commented earlier this year. “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.” On the basis of recent reports, such fears seem to already have begun to manifest in reality.