NEW DELHI: As the government deliberates the details of a draft ordinance to curb the usage of e-cigarettes, experts from various fields welcome the move but say the problem can't be solved until there is a blanket ban on the devices.
Concerns have spiralled after the deaths of two youths in the US, one in June and another in August, were tied to vaping, defined as the action of inhaling and exhaling the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar devices such as hookahs.
The government last month came up with a draft ordinance seeking to ban the production, import, distribution and sale of electronic cigarettes and proposing jail term of one year for violators.
The "Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance 2019" has been sent to a group of ministers for scrutiny following directions from the Prime Minister's Office.
Experts who have long argued that e-cigarettes pose health risks to users, contrary to the perception that they are a healthier alternative to nicotine cigarettes, believe an ordinance could be a strong deterrent but will not be of much use until it has provisions for a total ban.
"The ordinance is a great move by the government. However, until there is a provision in it which bans e-cigarette in India, it won't be of much help since the e-cigarette companies will continue to operate illegally," Dr Sekhar Salkar, secretary-general of the Goa-headquartered National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication (NOTE), told PTI.
In his view, the ordinance should not leave loopholes for e-cigarette companies to operate.
Often, legislators, health experts and lobbies are divided over the subject, influencing the government both at the centre and the state level and making the task of enforcing a law extremely difficult, Salkar said.
According to a recent study by Delhi-based NGO Consumer Voice, over 36 e-cigarette companies are operating in India when officially there is no permission to any of them.
Calling for a complete ban, the Mumbai-headquartered NGO National Health Forum says a large chunk of the youth have got addicted to vaping.
"The decision of the Ministry of Health to ensure that the manufacture, distribution, import and sale of e-Cigarette/ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems) and similar such products is correct and laudable.
All other ministries must support this move to ensure that such products are banned and are not used as legal products under the COPTA or Drugs and Cosmetic Act," Mandakini Sinh, managing trustee of the National Health Forum, told PTI.
E-cigarettes do not fall within the scope of existing national legislation on tobacco production, distribution and use, yet pose significant health risks that are similar to those of conventional cigarettes, say experts.
Studies have found that the percentage of students who initiate the use of e-cigarettes and hookah smoking before 10 years of age has increased from 26 per cent to 45 per cent in the last 15 years.
While e-cigarette companies are trying to promote the devices as a cessation tool to quit conventional cigarettes, several countries, including Mauritius, Australia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand, have banned the devices.
Even the US city of San Francisco, which was the manufacturing centre for e- cigarette major JUUL, banned its sale in June.
In India, 13 states have already banned e-cigarettes and Odisha and Haryana are planning to follow suit.
In March this year, the Central Drug Standard Control Organisation wrote to all drug controllers in states and Union territories to not allow the manufacture, sale, import and advertisement of ENDS, including e-cigarettes and flavoured hookahs, in their jurisdictions.
According to Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, deputy director of head and neck surgical oncology at Tata Memorial Hospital, the ordinance should have a clear provision to ban e-cigarettes.
"We need a clear law to ban e cigarettes in India.
Though ordinance is a root to ban the e-cigarettes but the aim should be achieved fast. Stringent laws are required," Chaturvedi, who has been part of several expert committees on the subject, said.
M C Misra, former director of New Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, agreed.
"Some smokers and doctors call it a cessation drug, but it is far from the truth as e-cigarettes contain nicotine which is addictive.
In a study by US' National Institute on Drug Abuse, which involved 800 smokers, only nine per cent reported having quit after one year while the rest were addicted.
Banning e cigarettes is the only solution," he said.
The Trade Representatives of ENDS in India (TRENDS), comprising importers, distributors and marketers of alternative smoking devices, has also urged the government to initiate a consultative process so that opinion of all stakeholders can be heard and facts placed in the correct perspective.