The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Prohibition Of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage And Advertisement) Bill, 2019, by voice vote.
As the name suggests, the Bill prohibits production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage, and advertisement of e-cigarettes and similar devices, categorizing them as cognizable offences. It will replace the ordinance promulgated by the Centre in that behalf on 18 September.
The Bill assumes importance from the standpoint of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2003, which India is a signatory to. Asserting that e-cigarettes result in lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and other illnesses associated with smoking traditional cigarettes, WHO had called upon all signatory states to the Framework in 2014, to consider prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in their countries. Even the Indian Council of Medical Research had recommended a complete ban on e-cigarettes and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems.
The bill introduced by Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan stipulates that persons found in violation of the law for the first time will face a jail term of up to one year or a fine of up to one lakh rupees, or both. For subsequent offences, a jail term of up to three years and fine upto Rs 5 lakh.
It further punishes storage of e-cigarettes with imprisonment up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 50,000, or both. Once the Bill comes into force, the owners of existing stocks of e-cigarettes will have to declare and deposit these stocks at the nearest office of an authorized officer.
The Bill authorizes officials to search premises and seize materials without warrant, in case they suspect contravention of the Act. It further empowers them to attach properties, stocks of e-cigarettes or records maintained by the manufacturer, producer exporter, transporter, importer, stockist against whom a complaint is made.
During the discussion, members pumped that tobacco itself should be banned, to ensure healthier lives for citizens. BSP MP Ritesh Pandey said that prohibiting tobacco would come as a big relief to the farmers as well, who are forced by the Tobacco Board to plant tobacco, an expensive crop in terms of farming. Nevertheless, he added, the government had not given thought to prohibiting the root cause of the problem, certainly to defend "Tobacco Lobby". He had also asked the government not to ban "export" of e-cigarettes, in lieu of foreign exchange and employment opportunities attached to it.
"3% of the total Indian population smokes e-cigarettes," said INC MP Adhir Ranjan Chodhury. The debate also did rounds with regards the ascending trend of smoking among women and children.
Members who endorsed the Bill said that it was urgent to prohibit e-cigarettes because its aesthetic made it difficult to detect it at first sight, making it easier for children to possess and carry it. Dr. Harsh Vardhan told the house that as many as 150 school children were found in possession of vaping devices, during a surprise check in a Delhi school.
Interestingly, an amendment motion to prohibit even the 'display' of e-cigarettes was moved, which came to be declined.
The Bill will now be moved for consideration before the Rajya Sabha.
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