The government on Thursday issued an ordinance to ban e-cigarettes, making the production, import, export, transport, sale or advertisements of such "alternative" smoking devices a cognizable offence attracting jail term and fine.
First time violators will face a jail term of up to one year and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. For subsequent offences, a jail term of up to three years or a fine of Rs 5 lakh, or both according to the ordinance.
The storage of e-cigarettes shall now be punishable with imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 50,000 or both.
The Union Cabinet on Wednesday decided to ban the production, import, distribution and sale of electronic cigarettes, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.
Sitharaman, who had headed a Group of Ministers (GoM) on the issue, said the Cabinet decided to ban e-cigarettes and similar products as they pose health risk to people, especially the youth.
The ordinance also allows authorised officials to conduct searches in premises stating that where such searches are not permissible, authorities may attach properties, stocks of e-cigarettes or records maintained by the manufacturer, producer exporter, transporter, importer, stockist against whom a complaint has been made.
It also said that that the owner or occupier of the place which stock of e-cigarettes shall voluntarily prepare a list of such stock in his possession and without delay submit the stock to the nearest authorised officer.
However, e-cigarettes promoting trade bodies, users and other stakeholders slammed the government's move to ban the "alternative" smoking device through the ordinance route, alleging it was a "draconian" step taken in haste to protect the conventional cigarette industry.
Association of Vapers India (AVI), an organisation representing e-cigarette users, also alleged that it is a black day for 11 crore smokers in India who have been deprived of safer options.
Asserting that the decision was taken keeping in mind their impact on the youth of today, Sitharaman on Wednesday quoted data, which she claimed was largely derived from the US's experience, to highlight that there has been a 77.8 percent increase in the use of e-cigarettes among school students and that surprisingly, use of such products by middle school students has also seen a rise of 48.5 percent.
Many science-based journals have already said that nearly 3 million people in US are regular users of e-cigarettes and in a matter of four to five years, between 2011 and 2015-16, there has been over 900 per cent growth in e-cigarettes in US, she said.
Photograph: Regis Duvigna/Reuters.