Agency New Delhi: The government on Wednesday banned production, import and sale of e-cigarettes and similar products, citing health risk to people, especially youth, and an ordinance will be brought in to make it an offence, entailing jail term up to three years as well as fine. The decision, taken by the Union cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also hit the plans of foreign companies such as Juul Labs and Philip Morris International (PM.N) to enter the Indian market. “The Cabinet today gave approval to a decision to ban e-cigarettes which is also otherwise technically called the ENDS (Electronic nicotine delivery systems), which means production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale, distribution and storage and advertisement related to e cigarettes are all banned,” said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who had headed a Group of Ministers (GoM) on the issue. First-time violators will face a jail term of up to one year and a fine of Rs one lakh, and for subsequent offences, a jail term of up to three years or a fine of Rs 5 lakh, or both have been prescribed, she said. Storage of electronic-cigarettes shall also be punishable with an imprisonment up to 6 months or fine up to Rs 50,000 or both. According to an official statement, the owners of existing stocks of e-cigarettes on the date of commencement of the ordinance will have to declare and deposit the stocks with the nearest police station. The government will immediately pass an ordinance, subject to the approval of the President, and the matter will be taken up in the next Parliament session, she said. 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. There was no immediate reaction from Philip Morris International. Meanwhile, after the cabinet decision, cigarette stocks gained up to 5.5 per cent with shares of Godfrey Phillips India jumped 5.55 per cent and Golden Tobacco climbed 4.69 per cent on the BSE. Likewise, VST Industries rose by 3.43 per cent and ITC gained 1.03 per cent. Quoting reports, Sitharaman said for some youths e-cigarettes were becoming a “style statement” and “some who are probably getting into the habit of e-cigarettes as it seems cool. It is believed that there are more than 400 brands, none of which is manufactured yet in India. And they come in over 150 flavours.” Asserting that the decision was taken, keeping in mind their impact on the youth of today, she also quoted data, which she claimed was largely derived from the US’ 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.
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