A Bill banning the manufacture and sale of electronic cigarettes , but not their possession and use, was passed by Parliament on Monday.
Rajya Sabha passed the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Bill, 2019 by voice vote after four hours of discussion. The Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on November 27, will replace an ordinance brought by the government on September 18.
Addressing concerns raised by Opposition MPs who alleged that the ban on e-cigarettes was enacted to benefit tobacco companies, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told the Rajya Sabha: “Our intentions are absolutely pious and very clear.”
Reiterating that “there are no vested interests, no ulterior motives,” Dr. Harsh Vardhan said it was “big tobacco companies” that were entering the market of e-cigarettes with new names. Preventing young people, particularly since smoking was prevalent in 4% of the 15-23 age group, from starting vaping or using e-cigarettes was the intention of the government.
Referring to several MPs questioning the government not banning conventional cigarettes and tobacco products, which were more harmful than e-cigarettes, Dr. Harsh Vardhan said: “I will be the happiest man the in the country the day tobacco is banned.”
He said the government had been working to control tobacco and had increased the size of warnings to 85% of the packet. He said when he wrote to the Agriculture Minister in 2014 about research on tobacco and finding alternative work for tobacco farmers, the letter was leaked to the media. Many delegations of farmers, accompanied by MPs, visited him. The ban on e-cigarettes would work to “nip it in the bud” as its use was at 0.02% as of now.
The Congress opposed the Bill earlier in the discussion, with B.K. Hariprasad saying though he did not support e-cigarettes, he opposed the way the Bill was brought. He said the government should have brought a Bill to ban tobacco products. Husain Dalwai of the Congress added that the “most objectionable part” of the Bill was the power given to the police to search premises to look for e-cigarettes without warrants.
All-India Trinamool Congress MP Md. Nadimul Haque said he supported the Bill, but agreed that it should have covered all tobacco products. AIADMK MP Vijila Sathyanath said not only should all tobacco products be banned, but rules permitting smoking in designated areas, including Parliament, should be changed. Ravi Prakash Verma of the Samajwadi Party also spoke in favour of a complete ban on tobacco, saying the government spent more on healthcare of those with tobacco-related diseases than it earned in revenue from the industry.
K. Keshava Rao of the TRS said the government was focusing on a “perceived threat” from e-cigarettes in the future, but was not acting against the real threat faced by 28% of the population that used conventional tobacco products.
Tiruchi Siva of the DMK said the government was not addressing tobacco, which was expected to cause 13% of deaths in 2020. Sushil Kumar Gupta of the Aam Aadmi Party supported the Bill.
R.K .Sinha of the BJP said e-cigarettes were coming to India from a “neighbouring country,” referring to China. In his response later, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, however, said it wasn’t just China, but global tobacco companies were also involved in the e-cigarette business.
Amar Patnaik of the BJD and Rajaram of the BSP both supported the Bill and asked for all tobacco products to be banned.