Ordinance to Ban ENDS: Trade representatives seek hearing by Group of Ministers
The health ministry has proposed maximum imprisonment of up to one year along with a penalty of Rs 1 lakh for first-time violators and up to three years of jail and a penalty of Rs 5 lakh for repeat offenders.
New Delhi: Trade representatives promoting e-cigarettes on Tuesday urged a Group of Ministers, formed to examine a draft ordinance to ban such products, to hear their contention in the issue as an affected party. Also, a consumer body accused the Centre of trying to "bypass the judicial system" after the Delhi and Bombay high courts stayed the government's move to ban vapes.
The Association of Vapers India (AVI) representing e-cigarette users, questioned the Centre's intent in banning alternatives to smoking and alleged that the government is a "stakeholder in tobacco commerce, profiting directly from cigarette sales".
In a statement, the association raised doubts over the "seriousness" of the government in making India a tobacco-free country "as it continues to participate in tobacco trade in violation of international tobacco control treaties the country has signed".
Trade representatives of electronic nicotine delivery systems (TRENDS) have sought a "fair trial" on the issue alleging the government's view on the safety aspect of these products has been "built on hearsay and without allowing any debate or discussion".
Some international policy think tanks have written to Union ministers of health, commerce and industry, law and justice, electronics and also the joint secretary in the Prime Minister's Office to consider regulating such alternative smoking devices.
AVI director and harm reduction advocate Samrat Chowdhery alleged the decision of the government to bring an ordinance to ban e-cigarettes protects the cigarette business.
"The matter is subjudice. Had the government been unbiased on the issue, it would have followed the judicial process and not tried to circumvent it with a hurried ordinance when Parliament is not in session. People should come before profits, and in this debate, the voice of consumers is being lost," he said.
The draft Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance, 2019, seeking to ban production, import, distribution and sale of electronic cigarettes and proposing jail term for violators has been sent to a Group of Ministers (GoM) to examine its various aspects.
In it, the health ministry has proposed maximum imprisonment of up to one year along with a penalty of Rs 1 lakh for first-time violators and up to three years of jail and a penalty of Rs 5 lakh for repeat offenders.
Summing up their appeal to the GoM, TRENDS Convener Praveen Rikhy said, "Any decision to ban e-cigarettes will be unreasonable and arbitrary in nature. In keeping with the principle of natural justice, we should be given an equal opportunity to be heard before any extreme decision as an ordinance is considered."
Senior Delhi High Court lawyer Farrukh Khan said rather than imposing a ban, the government should frame a sound policy on e-cigarettes.
"On one hand they are not able to take any action against shops where cigarettes and bidis are sold to teenagers. On the other hand, they are trying to deprive people of scientifically proven safer alternatives which can help them quit smoking," he said.
Carrie Wade, Director of Harm Reduction Policy in Washington DC and Clive Bates, Founder and Director from Counterfactual Consulting in London wrote a letter to the government over the issue.
"We write to urge the Indian government to consider regulation that allows its citizens continued access to reduced-risk products.
"We encourage Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi's administration, including the Ministry of Health to keep these products available and we propose that, rather than an outright ban on these products, a proper regulatory framework that encourages a switch from combustibles to reduced risk products will greatly improve the health of your citizens," they said.
Apex medical research body, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has recommended a "complete ban" on ENDS, saying their use can initiate nicotine addiction among non-smokers also.