Recognizing their harmful effects, the health ministry has decided to ban the nicotine inhalers, also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), that are popular among smokers.
A notification to this effect is likely to be issued soon, two health ministry officials aware of the matter said, requesting anonymity.
The proposal to ban the battery-operated products is part of the “first 100 days’ agenda" of the Narendra Modi government.
These devices do not burn tobacco leaves, but use a heating element to turn a liquid nicotine solution into vapours, which the user inhales.
E-cigarettes are unlicensed products and have made their way into India illegally. Marketed as a product that can help smokers quit, e-cigarettes have also become a fashion statement among young tobacco users.
The health ministry now wants to ban its manufacture, import and sale in India. “Regulatory measures to prevent the use of e-cigarettes are necessary. They are imported unlicensed products and are found to be widely sold online. The ministry is now considering to ban the product," said the first health ministry official.
According to government data, more than 460 e-cigarette brands are available in India, with various configurations of nicotine delivery and in over 7,700 flavours.
However, under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act the government cannot ban these products, but only regulate their sale. This put the government in a dilemma over the legal provisions it would have to invoke to ban e-cigarettes.
Finally, experts at a drug consultative committee meeting on 1 June concluded that e-cigarettes and other such devices would fall under the definition of “drug" under Section 3(b) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 (DCA), and therefore should be banned under Section 26 (A) of DCA.
“ENDS, including e-cigarettes, heat-not burn devices, vape, e-sheesha, e-nicotine, flavoured hookah, and similar products, are used as a tobacco (especially smoking forms such as cigarettes) cessation product, and functions for nicotine delivery for reasons, including nicotine de-addiction. Hence, these devices and products fall under the definition of “drug" in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act," say the minutes of the meeting. Mint has reviewed the document.
“So far the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Union Territory of Chandigarh have declared/notified ENDS, or e-cigarettes, as an unapproved drug under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Rules, 1945, and have commenced prosecution of sellers of ENDS under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940," said the second health ministry official.
Haryana has also notified that “nicotine in its pure chemical form" is “poison" under the Poisons Act. Karnataka, Kerala, Mizoram, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have also issued orders banning the manufacture, distribution and sale of e-cigarettes as an unapproved drug under DCA.
Last August, the Union health ministry issued an advisory to restrict advertisement of ENDS products. Based on the advisory, the central drug regulatory authority on 22 February wrote to all state drug controllers that no ENDS products have been approved under DCA and asked them to ensure that these products were not sold.