The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved a blanket ban on e-cigarettes in the country with complete suspension of its manufacturing, import, export, distribution and storage.
Addressing the media after the cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government would pass an ordinance immediately subject to President's approval to give effect to the ban. The government would introduce a bill in Parliament in the winter session, she said.
As per the terms of the ban, punishment to be meted out for the first offence by an individual would be a one-year imprisonment or a fine of Rs 1 lakh. Repeat offences could lead to a three-year imprisonment or a penalty of Rs 5 lakh or both, said Preeti Sudan, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
She said all offences such as import, export and distribution, except storing e-cigarettes and vaping products are cognizable.
The decision comes after demands from several quarters to ban Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), which includes e-cigarettes, Heat-Not-Burn devices, Vape, e-Sheesha, e-Nicotine Flavoured Hookah, and other similar devices.
E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco but heats the liquid chemicals into vapour or steam that a person inhales. This is the reason it is also called vaping. E-cigarettes are considered harmful to health.
Sitharaman said that currently, though no Indian company was manufacturing e-cigarettes, some 400 brands were already operating here offering the product in 150 flavours.
The growing popularity of e-cigarettes, battery-powered devices that enable users to inhale addictive nicotine liquids, has raised fears among policymakers worldwide of a new gateway addiction for young people. While vaping exposes users to lower levels of toxins than smoking, the World Health Organization said the devices still pose "health risks" to users.
"Although the specific level of risk associated with ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) has not yet been conclusively estimated, ENDS are undoubtedly harmful and should therefore be subject to regulation," the WHO said in a report on the global smoking epidemic.
There was also "insufficient evidence" to support claims of their effectiveness in assisting smokers trying to quit conventional cigarettes, it said. The WHO has warned misinformation spread by the tobacco industry about e-cigarettes was "a present and real threat".
Earlier on Tuesday, New York became the second US state to ban flavored e-cigarettes following several vaping-linked deaths. Michigan became the first state to declare a ban earlier this month. President Donald Trump's administration announced last week that it would soon ban flavoured e-cigarette products to stem a rising tide of youth users.
(With Online Desk inputs)