NEW DELHI: The Union government is likely to ban e-cigarettes following an expert committee’s conclusion that they have cancer-causing properties, are highly addictive, and do not offer a safer alternative to tobacco based smoking products.
An e-cigarette is a battery-operated device that uses liquid nicotine, propylene glycol, water, glycerin and flavour to give a user the sense of smoking areal cigarette.
The health ministry is considering a ban on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), of which e-cigarette is a prototype, after the technical committee evaluated recent research that said e-cigarettes were potentially lethal.
A ban is also being considered as e-cigarettes could weaken the public campaign to highlight the health hazards of smoking.
“E-cigarettes are just a mechanism to deliver nicotine in an attractive format. They are being marketed as a harm-reduction product, which is contrary to the truth. Youngsters are being lured as it is easily available in different flavours. People should not get lured because e-cigarettes too are harmful,” said Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, chief executive, Voluntary Health Association of India.
In the absence of requisite provisions under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), the health ministry is now examining other laws such as the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and the Food Safety & Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Regulation, 2011, to effect a ban.
“COTPA does not have a provision to ban and, therefore, we are faced with the challenge of finding a strong provision. We are convinced about the harmful effects of e-cigarettes but if we do not back it up with a strong provision under the law, then it will fall flat in the courts,” a senior official told TOI.
Health secretary C K Mishra said, “We are looking into all aspects of e-cigarettes, and working on a methodology to contain the harm from it.” He added that the ministry was likely to come up with a decision on the matter very soon.
Experts say liquid nicotine — the main ingredient in e-cigarettes — has still not been registered as a drug in India and, therefore, the Centre could use the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, to prohibit the sale of products containing it.
However, the Centre is being cautious in using this provision because it fears that companies may challenge such a move.
Some states, including Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab, J&K, Mizoram & Maharash tra, have banned e-cigarettes under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and Food Safety & Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Regulation, 2011.
Health experts say e-cigarettes are mostly being used by children and youth. Though not generally available in stores, they are widely promoted through social media, and e-mail marketing with discount offers.
According to a report by the WHO, e-cigarettes emit nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco products.
In addition to dependence, nicotine can have adverse effects on the development of the fetus during pregnancy, and may contribute to cardiovascular disease.
The WHO report further said that though nicotine itself was not a carcinogen, it may function as a “tumour promoter” and seemed to be involved in the biology of malignant disease, as well as of neurodegeneration.