Nicotine, class A poison in Karnataka

Government steps in to curb illegal sale and smuggling of nicotine cartridges, e-cigarettes

August 20, 2019 12:35 am | Updated 12:35 am IST - Bengaluru

To strengthen enforcement of the ban on production and sale of electronic cigarettes, the State government has amended the Karnataka Poisons (Possession and Sale) Rules, 2015 to notify nicotine as a Class A poison.

Highly toxic chemicals, which even in very small quantities as gas or vapour in the air are dangerous to life (such as cyanogen, hydrocyanic acid, nitrogen peroxide, and phosgene), are notified under Class A. A gazette notification in this regard was published last month and the new rules are now called the Karnataka Poisons (Possession and Sale) Rules, 2019.

Electronic cigarettes are small battery-operated devices that vaporise liquid nicotine to provide the same experience as smoking tobacco. Although the State government had banned the sale and production of e-cigarettes in June 2016, illegal sale and smuggling of nicotine cartridges and e-cigarettes is rampant in Karnataka.

They are often marketed as a way to cut down or cut out cigarette smoking altogether, and sold as aids to quit smoking.

The ban was imposed after a study by the Health Department and experts showed that e-cigarettes encourage the younger generation to use conventional cigarettes. While the use of two milligrams of nicotine is permitted only in chewable chocolates to help with de-addiction, e-cigarette manufacturers misuse this clause for their sale.

The ban — invoking sections of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and the Food Safety Act — also ordered the suspension of all kinds of promotion of e-cigarettes, including online promotion. “Despite this, we find that illegal sale of e-cigarettes is rampant in the State. The cybercrime police recently issued notice to e-commerce platforms cautioning them that they cannot sell e-cigarettes online. Also, customs officials have been seizing nicotine cartridges and e-cigarettes from people flying into Karnataka from outside,” said U.S. Vishal Rao, a member of the State government’s High-Powered Committee on Tobacco Control.

“Nicotine is used as a direct substance in e-cigarettes and the content ranges up to 36 mg/mL. Although regular cigarettes too have nicotine, it is in the range of 1.2 to 1.4 mg/mL,” Dr. Rao said.

Sources in the Karnataka’s food safety division said that nicotine is a highly toxic and lipophilic cholinergic alkaloid that affects the parasympathetic nervous system. In its current status, nicotine has no nutritive value and has been prohibited for use in food under Section 2.3.4 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, owing to its serious health hazards and potentially poisonous nature. There is no known antidote for nicotine toxicity, a senior official said.

Additional Chief Secretary Vandita Sharma, who heads the high-powered committee, said nicotine is known to be an addictive substance and therefore it is not unreasonable to think of e-cigarettes as a new gateway drug for nicotine addiction. “By notifying nicotine as a Class A poison in Karnataka, the government has equipped itself with an essential tool to ensure the safety and health of people in Karnataka,” she said.

Shambhavi Ravishankar, legislative and public policy analyst, said e-cigarettes have so far existed in a legal and policy limbo without any real means of checking their influx or ensuring that manufacturers are held to the highest standards of health safety.

“This legal vacuum has resulted in the absence of an explanation on the need for regulating the use, sale and access to e-cigarettes. Additionally, without this strong legal basis, it is difficult to tackle the misinformation created and circulated on the safety of using e-cigarettes,” she added.

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