Monday, December 9, 2019
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Electronic cigarette is one of the nicotine delivery devices.

Piecemeal restriction on e-cigarettes will only help the tobacco manufacturers and cigarette companies

I FOUGHT a 12-year-long battle to ban nicotine containing articles, including electronic cigarettes, but the Union government’s legislation, passed by the Rajya Sabha on December 2, 2019, is not what I sought.

The Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Bill 2019 is an absolutely diluted piece of legislation, which fails to address the grave issue of nicotine-laced products. It’s just an all bark no bite legislation, not worth the paper it’s printed on. It partially addresses only e-cigarettes, which is less than one percent of the real problem of nicotine abuse.

Twelve years back, in 2007, I had filed a Public Interest Writ Petition (CWP 14597 of 2007) in Punjab and Haryana High Court demanding banning all forms of chemical Nicotine, as it is a deadly poison and it’s various forms like Sheesha/ Hookah, e-cigarettes, etc. are a grave danger to the public.

After five years of legal fight, in 2012, the High Court finally passed its judgement admitting that nicotine and all nicotine delivery devices were poisons and the state must regulate the same. The High Court also asked the states to constitute a permanent task force for monitoring of the abuse of nicotine.

The High Court kept the writ alive, to date, for monitoring purposes.

Subsequent to the High Court order, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare formed an expert committee in 2013 with me and WHO officials as expert members.

After deliberations for five years, in 2017, the legal group of the expert committee recommended that “it is necessary and expedient in public interest to completely, without any exception, prohibit the import, manufacturing, distribution and sale of nicotine as an extract and/or chemical, and electronic nicotine delivery devices.” The new legislation brought by the Ministry, however, completely removed the recommendation to prohibit the use of nicotine as an extract and/or chemical.

The new legislation completely removed recommendation to prohibit use of nicotine as an extract and/or chemical

The bureaucracy while drafting the new legislation has very narrowly constructed the definition of nicotine delivery devices and has completely obliterated the recommendation to prohibit nicotine as an extract and/or chemical under extraneous pressure. 

Such piecemeal restriction of e-cigarettes will only help the tobacco manufacturers and cigarette companies as it will eliminate the competition of cigarette companies, which they face from e-cigarettes, while allowing the use of nicotine as an extract and/or chemical in other products.

The legislation is also toothless in taking any action as it restricts and binds the law enforcement agencies for taking prior permission for initiating any criminal or legal action against any violator.

Such piecemeal restriction of e-cigarettes will help tobacco manufacturers and cigarette companies as it eliminates their competition

This legislation is such a let-down, after 12 years of my struggle, I feel cheated by this legislation.

A September 5, 2017, note of the meeting by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare read; “The expert group in its report has stated that the scientific evidences indicates that the use of nicotine (and its compounds), whether through electronic devices commonly called nicotine delivery systems  or through non-electronic device/apparatus is hazardous. The report also states that besides causing cancers and several other health disorders, nicotine is also classified as poison and is fatal for human being even in very small doses. In the larger interest of public health and as recommended by the expert group, the sale of or trade in nicotine (other than for therapeutic use approved and prescribed under Drugs & Cosmetic Act) or any device that enables its use is illegal and in violation of the existing laws. Violators are liable to be prosecuted.”

However, the legislation removed the reference to the use of nicotine other than electronic forms. E-cigarettes are less than one percent of the chemical nicotine use in India.

Hemant Goswami is an anti-tobacco activist and recipient of the 2013 WHO Award for Fighting Tobacco

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