Clamping dangerous alternatives
The government's ordinance to ban e-cigarettes and making any trade or advertisements of such "alternative" smoking devices a cognizable offence attracting jail term and fine is a step with a range of impact. Right from enforcing awareness about the perils of smoking and its alternatives among gullible youth to dealing a blow to businesses centred on e-cigarettes, this move will go a long way in ensuring better public health and cleaner air. With the stringent enforcement of imposing fine of Rs 1 lakh and a jail term to first-time offenders up to one, and a jail term of up to three years or a fine of Rs 5 lakh, or both for subsequent violations, a much-needed deterrent is in the right place. Making bulk possession of e-cigarettes a punishable offence attracting imprisonment up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 50,000 or both is checking this menace from a commercial perspective too. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman headed a Group of Ministers on the issue and announced Cabinet's decision to ban e-cigarettes and similar products as they pose a health risk to people, especially the youth. This ordinance warrants authorised officials to conduct searches in premises and makes clear that the owner or occupier of the place which stock e-cigarettes shall voluntarily prepare a list of such stock in his possession and without delay submit the stock to the nearest authorised officer. This crackdown on e-cigarettes had concerned trade bodies, users, and stakeholders labelled the government's move a "draconian" one and a hasty step to protect the conventional cigarette industry. Association of Vapers India, an organisation representing e-cigarette users, presented a figure that 11 crore smokers in India have been deprived of safer options. Sitharaman explained that "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 a weaning mechanism but are rather addicted to it." A grave situation indeed, the government's decision to ban e-cigarettes aims to protect the youth, the most vulnerable lot of individuals, to the health hazards of vaping. The attractive appearances and multiple flavours of e-cigarettes have caused an exponential increase in its usage and the practice has gone on to acquire epidemic proportions in developed countries, particularly among youth and children. The addiction of e-cigarettes is as serious a concern as is addiction to conventional smoking.
As far as the trade aspect of vaping go, e-cigarettes worth $1,91,781 were imported in India between 2016-16 and 2018-19. The Union government's ban on e-cigarettes is a move coming after a 2018 advisory the Central government had sent to all state governments asking them to consider banning e-cigarettes. Before the Central government made this announcement, 15 states and one Union territory had already banned e-cigarettes; Puducherry and Punjab, Karnataka, Mizoram, Kerala, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Odisha, and Nagaland are the states to enforce the ban. E-cigarettes are the most common form of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, which means that they basically devices that do not burn or use tobacco leaves, but, instead, vaporise a solution using a battery. E-cigarettes use a heating element to vaporise liquid nicotine. This vapour is then inhaled by the user and has been proved to be not only addictive but have detrimental effects on the udders health, both mental and physical. The main constituents of the solution, in addition to nicotine when nicotine is present, are propylene glycol, with or without glycerol and flavouring agents. The World Health Organisation, recognising the hazards of vaping explains that these solutions and emissions also contain some solutions that are considered to be 'toxicants'. The need to focus particularly on youth is that students contribute significantly in driving up the sales of this instrument of health hazard. As per a US-based report, the sales of e-cigarette have risen by 77 per cent because of consumption by students. The long-term repercussions of vaping are yet to be established but e-cigarettes have been proved to have links with six deaths so far due to lung diseases in the US, which sparked a demand for its ban. There are said to be more than 400 brands of e-cigarettes available in India with various configurations of nicotine delivery and in over 7,700 flavours—none of which is manufactured yet in India. The makers of e-cigarette stand criticised for targeting young people with flavoured products and clever marketing. The health risks of e-cigarettes are strikingly similar to those of conventional cigarettes but they are sold (and also purchased) as a harm product that reduces harm. And this is quite far from the truth. The chemicals used in e-cigarettes as solvents are hazardous and could be fatal. The Health Ministry informs that "available scientific evidence indicated that e-cigarettes and similar technologies that encourage tobacco are hazardous for an active as well as passive user. Pure nicotine, the main ingredient of e-cigarettes, and its chemical derivatives in extracted chemical form are highly addictive and poisonous and have a potential to cause death even in small quantities". Given the gravity of the situation, and especially that a major section of vulnerable youth is at stake, the government has been very prompt in addressing this health concern and has taken the right steps to nip this hazard in the bud.