E-cigarettes will be banned in India with immediate effect, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced on Wednesday. Envisioned as a tool to combat tobacco addiction, electronic cigarettes and other vaping products have become a major problem and increase the risk of children taking up smoking, she said.
"The production, manufacturing, import or export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertising related to e-cigarettes are banned," Ms Sitharaman said, announcing that the union cabinet had cleared an ordinance that has been sent to President Ram Nath Kovind.
E-cigarettes are being used as a "style statement", the minister said, and the government wants to stop the contagion before it spreads. Many e-cigarette companies have been accused of trying to attract a new generation of nicotine users.
"Reports say that there are some who are probably getting into the habit of e-cigarettes as it seems cool. It is believed that there are more than 400 brands, none of which is manufactured yet in India. And they come in over 150 flavours," Ms Sitharaman said.
The Health Ministry had proposed to ban the devices in public interest, saying it was needed to ensure e-cigarettes don't become an "epidemic" among children and young adults.
The Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance, 2019, was recently examined by a Group of Ministers (GoM) following directions from the Prime Minister's Office.
In the draft ordinance, the Health Ministry had proposed a jail term of up to one year along with a penalty of Rs. 1 lakh against first time violators. This can go up to imprisonment of three years or a fine up to Rs. 5 lakhs for subsequent violations.
The ordinance will need to be approved by parliament when it returns for the next session due in November.
Banning alternative smoking devices like e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn smoking devices, vape and e-nicotine flavoured hookahs was among the key priorities of the first 100 days agenda of the Narendra Modi government in its second term.
The move comes just a week after US President Donald Trump proposed a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes.
More than nine lakh people die each year in the country due to tobacco-related illnesses. But India has over 10 crore adult smokers, second only to China in the world, making it a lucrative market for firms such as Juul and Philip Morris.