NEW DELHI : Two months after the Union cabinet banned the sale and storage of e-cigarettes, the home ministry through an ordinance on Wednesday said law enforcement agencies can now search premises for vaping devices without a warrant.

The MHA’s diktat comes amid protests by vaping companies, questioning the Centre’s move to make possession of e-cigarettes a punishable offence.

“Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Import, Export, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Ordinance, 2019, was promulgated on 18 November for banning production, sale, purchase, etc., of electronic cigarettes in interest of public health," the home ministry’s notification said.

The ordinance empowers police officers of the rank of sub-inspector and above with powers to “enter, search and seize" the prohibited items without a warrant. “It is requested that enforcement of provisions of ordinance may kindly be ensured, considering potential deleterious impact of e-cigarettes on public health. Congruent capacity building and sensitization of enforcement personnel may be done for implementation of the ordinance," the ministry said.

The new rules on searching premises for e-cigarettes says that an authorized official will be empowered to conduct searches “if he has reason to believe" that the ordinance is being violated.

While the e-cigarette lobby has been vociferously challenging the Centre’s decision, it has now hit out labelling the ordinance “draconian".

“TRENDS maintains that a draconian bill has been proposed where any sub-inspector can enter premises, seize, arrest without a warrant. Is the Emergency back? Perhaps the first time ever that a bill is being sought to be passed to ban a product category that holds no threat to national security or public health. And, it is being rammed through without feedback or a democratic debate or discussion—as if an emergency is upon us," Praveen Rikhy, convener of Trade Representatives of ENDS, a body promoting electronic nicotine delivery systems, said.

The Union cabinet on 18 September approved the Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance 2019, which seeks to ban the production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement of e-cigarettes.

India currently has the second largest number of tobacco users (268 million or 28.6% of all adults in India) in the world, out of which at least 1.2 million die every year from tobacco-related diseases, according to government data. The data shows that the total direct and indirect cost of diseases attributable to tobacco was 1.04 trillion ($17 billion) in 2011, or 1.16% of India’s gross domestic product.

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