Rajya Sabha takes up bill to ban e-cigarettes

New Delhi, Nov 28 (PTI) Rajya Sabha on Thursday took up a bill seeking a ban on electronic cigarettes, with Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan highlighting the urgency to bring an ordinance earlier saying some big tobacco firms had announced plans to enter India with a different name and would have taken the market by storm.

There was a 'very, very strong threat from tobacco companies', he said, adding India has a large young population which would have been targeted by the e-cigarette firms.

Lok Sabha had passed the bill on Wednesday. It seeks to prohibit the production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement of electronic cigarettes in the interest of public health to protect the people from harm.

The Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Bill, 2019, seeks to replace the ordinance issued on September 18.

'Some of the big tobacco companies changed their name, in another name, they had started making plans to enter India. They had made full preparations and there was an announced entry of a company Juul of the a leading global manufacturers of e-cigarettes from December 2019 and it was probably one of the most imminent concerns that worried all of us,' Harsh Vardhan said.

He said the ministry was cognizant of this announced entry and this global giant would have taken the Indian market by storm, adding that the immediate need was to take it as an urgency also and the need of the hour was preventive action.

A statutory resolution was moved by opposition members to oppose the ordinance, with K K Ragesh (CPI-M) saying he was not against banning e-cigarette but questioned why the government was bringing it through an ordinance route.

'I don't know why the government is time and again promulgating ordinances. Prior to the last session also, more than a dozen ordinances were promulgated. Unfortunately the government is time and again bringing various ordinances. I am requesting the government to take the House into confidence. Let various bills go through the correct legislative process,' Ragesh said.

Harsh Vardhan said any comparison of e-cigarettes with tobacco is misplaced, adding that there was no evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes.

He asserted that there was definite evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are harmful for health.

Harsh Vardhan informed that 16 states and Union Territories and 42 countries have already banned e-cigarettes.

Observing that it was sort of an 'preemptive strike', the minister said we cannot wait further.

Since e-cigarettes have a small consumer base we strongly feel that ban is the most effective measure and the need of the hour, he said.

The bill makes the manufacturing, production, import, export, distribution, transport, sale, storage or advertisements of such alternative smoking devices a cognisable offence, attracting a jail term and a 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, will be imposed, according to the ordinance.

The storage of e-cigarettes shall also be punishable with imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 50,000, or both, it said. PTI RSN ZMN