India has banned the production, import and sale of electronic cigarettes in a public health decision that will dash the expansion plans of companies such as Juul Labs and Philip Morris International in the country.
The ban, announced on Wednesday, will be imposed through an executive order and will include jail terms of up to three years for offenders.
India’s health ministry, which proposed the move, had said it was needed to ensure e-cigarettes don’t become an “epidemic” among children and young adults. Several state governments in the country had already prohibited e-cigarettes before the central government’s announcement.
“Considering the seriousness of the impact of e-cigarettes on the youth, the cabinet has approved an ordinance to ban e-cigarettes,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told a news conference.
The first offence will be punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine of up to 100,000 rupees ($1,405), or both. For a subsequent offence, the punishment will be imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to 500,000 rupees ($7,028).
India has 106 million adult smokers, second only to China in the world, making it a lucrative market for firms that make e-cigarettes, such as Juul and Philip Morris.
More than 900,000 people die each year in the country due to tobacco-related illnesses.
‘Alternative to cigarettes’
While announcing the ban, Sitharaman showed various types of products to the media, including a pack of Juul e-cigarettes.
Juul had plans to launch its e-cigarette in India and has hired several senior executives in recent months. Philip Morris also has plans to launch its heat-not-burn smoking device in India, Reuters has reported.
A spokeswoman for Juul in India declined to comment, the Reuters news agency reported, while Philip Morris did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters for comment.
Juul, which sells sleek vaping devices that resemble USB flash drives and that have become a sensation in the United States, has previously said it aims to improve the lives of smokers by offering a “satisfying alternative to combustible cigarettes”.
E-cigarettes heat up a liquid – which usually contains nicotine – into vapour that is inhaled.
The vapour is missing most of the estimated 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, but does contain a number of substances that could potentially be harmful.
E-cigarettes have been pushed by producers as a safer alternative to traditional smoking and as a way to kick the habit.
However, critics say that apart from being potentially harmful in themselves, the flavours of some liquids have turned millions of children into so-called “vapers” – and potential future smokers.