Digging up on old news, it has been almost three months since the bill on banning e-cigarettes has been passed. The government has claimed that the intention behind the ban was to curb the exponential increase in the consumption of e-cigarettes, especially amongst the youth. As a measure to propagate a healthy lifestyle, banning e-cigarettes seems to be a moral decision. However, there are a few factors discussed in this article that may tell us that the situation is not all black and white.
On 2nd December 2019, the Parliament passed a bill which prohibited production, import, export, storage and advertisements of electronic cigarettes in India. Breaching the bill would have legal repercussions that include a fine up to five lakh rupees along with three years of imprisonment. Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, announced that the motive for the ban was to “protect the youth” from addiction to nicotine. The doubt arises when the announcement does not mention banning conventional cigarettes. Though there are ongoing debates on the topic, it is believed that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking. Furthermore, it is proved that smoking a conventional cigarette leads to higher levels of nicotine consumption. Logically if the government intended to propagate healthy living, then they should have banned conventional cigarettes as well. The reason is quite evident in terms of government revenue. Cigarettes in India are taxed heavily (64% excise duty, 28% GST, and 5% cess) and according to the estimates provided by the Health Ministry,account for 1.04 percent of the Indian GDP. Moreover, the government also owns shares of companies producing cigarettes such as 28.64 percent stake in ITC Ltd. ITC owns the highest market share of the cigarette industry, (~84.27%) based on sales. 400 e-cigarettes brands are available in India and none of them are manufactured in the country. Banning conventional cigarettes would directly affect the government’s income while banning e-cigarettes would have a negligent impact on the government. Commercial benefits have been prioritized over overall welfare.
The reason behind writing this article, months after the inception of the bill is actually another insight into the implicit motives of the bill. It has been three months since the bill has been passed but no execution of the bill has been seen. This may be because the government’s motive was never to promote health care but to prevent an immediate event from taking place. The reports say that one of the leading manufacturers of e-cigarettes in the world, Juul had announced its entry in the Indian market. If Juul would have successfully entered the Indian market, it would have been able to acquire large shares in the Indian market, reducing the share ITC currently possesses. By the end of 2019, Juul Labs Inc. was hoping to launch its products in India but had to withdraw due to the “regulatory environment”. There was some commotion in the Parliament as well. Senior CPI leader Binoy Viswam questioned the spontaneity of the legislation as no particular surveys or studies were carried out before the announcement of the ban. Congress MP B.K. Hariprasad said – “People are smelling a rat in the way this Bill has been brought hastily,”- suggesting that the announcement of the ban may have been for other intentions not revealed to the public.
The article does not claim that consumption of e-cigarettes is healthy and banning e-cigarettes does not contribute towards raising awareness against the harmful effects of nicotine. Ripping the veil of pretense, this article just wants to bring the hidden intentions of the government to light. The bill was maybe just a moral façade that actually covered the commercial intentions of the government.
Vanshika Shah is a 2nd year undergraduate student at Ashoka University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Economics and a minor in International Relations