Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday told the Lok Sabha that the Union government’s move to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes was a “pre-emptive strike” before the new form of intoxication spreads as the companies making them were looking at India as an attractive market. He made these remarks during the passage of a Bill in the Lower House that bans the sale of e-cigarettes with a penal provision of up to six months imprisonment or a fine of up to ₹50,000 or both.
The Minister also pointed out that the end users had been left out of the criminal provisions as the government didn’t want to punish students who are the targets of the companies selling the the new intoxicating product as a new ‘fashion’.
“I can’t be insensitive to the health of our people and the ordinance was a pre-emptive strike on this hazardous addiction,” he said as The Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Bill, 2019, replaced the ordinance brought in September last year.
The Minister argued that lack of ban on tobacco cannot be the justification for introducing “new addiction”. Dr. Harsh Vardhan said as a doctor he was aware of the adverse impact of the chemicals in nicotine used in e-cigarette as it could cause cancer, cardiovascular diseases and would affect adolescent brains.
He said in a country like India once hazardous and addictive substances such as liquor and tobacco got accepted, then it would become difficult to check them. “So it is better to nip them in the bud and ban such hazardous addictive substances before their use rises,” he said.
Most parties including the Opposition supported the Bill but questioned the government’s decision to bring an ordinance for the legislation. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury sparred with the Minister over the ordinance route and also asked about the use of other forms of tobacco.
Several MPs wondered if the Bill would be able to achieve its objectives of keeping the young population away from it. Nishikant Dubey (BJP) said he saw in Singapore people using cigarettes everywhere despite it being a small country and wondered how the ban would be enforced in India which also borders many countries.
Congress’ K. Sudhakaran called the bill ‘hasty’ and cited studies to say vaporisers were “95 per cent less harmful” than conventional cigarettes.