In a big achievement for activist groups and government, the Rajya Sabha on Monday passed The Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Bill, 2019. The bill, now passed by both Houses of Parliament, awaits Presidential assent into law. The bill seeks to prohibit the production, trade, transport, storage, and advertisement of electronic cigarettes in the country.
The Centre had issued an ordinance to ban e-cigarettes in September this year, which this new law seeks to replace. "We have done it with very pious intention. There is no vested interest," Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan told Rajya Sabha in his reply on the bill. However, some members during the debate expressed apprehensions that the government had brought this bill under pressure from the tobacco lobby and demanded the ban also be extended to raw tobacco and conventional cigarettes. On this, Dr Vardhan said that he would be the happiest person on the earth if tobacco could be banned completely.
Ripun Bora of the Congress said about 10 people die every second in the country due to tobacco-related diseases. "The concern of the minister that it (e-cigarette) has an impact on the health of the people is very much appreciable. But at the same time, not only e-cigarette but there are so many products in the market which are more injurious than e-cigarettes," Bora argued.
Trinamool Congress' Nadimul Haque said the mandate of the bill should be extended to all tobacco products including gutkha and pan masala. "Only banning e-cigarette should not be seen as a solution to the problem of smoking." Vijila Sathyananth of the AIADMK suggested a ban on all kind of cigarettes and also prohibit smoking at designated public places and close all such spots including inside the parliament complex. He also called for an increase in the legal age for smoking to 21.
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 Rs 1 lakh, 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.
(With PTI inputs)