Parliament on Monday passed a bill which seeks to prohibit the production, trade, transport, storage and advertisement of electronic cigarettes in the country.
The Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Bill, 2019, was passed in Rajya Sabha with a voice vote. It was passed in Lok Sabha earlier this month.
The government had issued an ordinance to ban e-cigarettes in September this year. The new law would replace the ordinance.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the government has brought in the bill in order to control the problem at the onset before it becomes too big to handle.
“All my life, I have fought against tobacco lobby. You (members) should not have any suspicion about our intentions. We want to nip this problem in the bud,” Vardhan said in the Rajya Sabha while replying to various queries of the opposition members.
Once the consumer base of a product becomes big, like in the case of regular tobacco products and alcohol, it is not easy to control the situation, he added.
Vardhan said it was important to being in the ordinance in September this year as big companies were gearing up to launch their products in the country.
“The same tobacco companies are also promoting e-cigarettes..as conventional business is going down, these companies are now promoting new methods like e-cigarettes…,” he added
It is easy for children to get addicted to e-cigarettes, so urgent steps were required, the minister said.
“So, there is no vested interest. We are not guided by tobacco companies. We have brought this bill with most sincere and pious intentions. It is very important to take care of the health of our children,” he added.
Vardhan said the entire government was in sync to take action against tobacco usage in the country.
“Honestly, I will be the happiest the day when every kind of tobacco product is banned in the country,” he added.
Vardhan appealed to the members pass the bill in the “interest of the country.”
During the debate on the bill, some members expressed apprehensions that the government had brought this bill under pressure from tobacco lobby and demanded the ban be extended to raw tobacco and conventional cigarettes.
BSP member Rajaram said, “Why not ban tobacco (entirely). What is the motive. Either you (government) are under pressure (from lobby) or there is some vested interest.”
Echoing similar views, Amar Patnaik (BJD) said, “The reason (for banning e-cigarettes) equally applies to conventional cigarettes also. Every year 1.16 per cent of GDP is spent on tobacco products…why not ban tobacco use in India.”
Congress member P L Punia said that the bill is silent on possession and use of e-cigarettes as it is not an offence.
Manoj Jha (RJD) also also echoed same views and asked why can’t the government ban tobacco, including beedi, cigarettes and other products, when only 0.2 per cent use e-cigarettes.
Binoy Viswam (CPI) also asked why the government was anxious to ban e-cigarettes and suddenly came with an ordinance.
He also asked about the basis of banning e-cigarettes like surveys, studies or any any preparations especially when other tobacco products like beedi and conventional cigarettes are available in the market.
In all 28 members participated in the debate, including BJP member T G Venkatesh, Ajay Pratap Singh (BJP), Harshvardhan Singh Dugarpur (BJP) V Vijayasai Reddy (YSRCP) and D P Vats (BJP).
The bill defines electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as electronic devices that heat a substance, which may contain nicotine and other chemicals, to create vapour for inhalation.
The bill provides for imprisonment of up to one year, or a fine of up to one lakh rupees, or both to a first-time violator.
For any subsequent offence, it says that the crime will be punishable with an imprisonment of up to three years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees.
Under the bill, no person is allowed to use any place for the storage of any stock of e-cigarettes. If any person stores any stock of e-cigarettes, he will be imprisoned for up to six months, or slapped with a fine of up to Rs 50,000, or both.
If an authorised officer believes that any provision of the bill has been contravened, he can search any place where trade, production, storage or advertising of e-cigarettes is being undertaken.