Lok Sabha

November 26, 2019

Saugata Roy speaks on The Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Bill, 2019

Saugata Roy speaks on The Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Bill, 2019


I am thankful that the House is sitting for so long at the desire of the Speaker who wants to make up for the time lost yesterday. It’s a good initiative. I have supported the extension of the time because he is trying to complete the business of the House. Let me make it clear at the outset that I was one of those who moved a statutory resolution against The Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Export, Import, Transport, Sale and Distribution, Storage and Advertisements) Ordinance 2009. I opposed the Ordinance because I don’t like the Ordinance route. It circumvents the democratic procedure and it is only a matter of one or two months, the Government should not have resorted to the Ordinance.

Having said that about opposing the use of Ordinances, let me make it clear that my Party is for the Bill for banning of e-cigarettes. My party is also against smoking and it is not a personal question, it is a political view that smoking causes lung cancer and it should be banned. The Health Minister is an eminent ENT surgeon himself. He has seen at close range the amount of cancer cigarettes produce. If he has taken this step, I have no objection. 

I have a lot of questions to ask the Hon’ble Minister. In Bangla, there is a proverb which says, ‘jhi ke mere bou ke sekhano’ (you beat the maid to teach a lesson to your daughter in law). This is what the Minister is doing. Actually his intention is to take on the manufacturers’ lobby but he lacks the courage to do it at one go. He has taken up a very small percentage of tobacco users, where only 3.95 per cent of tobacco users are aware of e-cigarettes. And the percentage of the users stood at 0.04. He is leaving 99.98 percent free of this law and it is only touching 0.2 percent. Is it wise, is it efficacious?

E- cigarettes are diminishing year after year because they are costly and beyond the reach of most people. Earlier, I even saw that ITC was importing e-cigarettes from China. There is not much manufacturing of e-cigarettes anywhere, it is a very advanced electronic item. It is mostly imported. ITC, Philip Morris these big companies import these things and market in India. 

Now, what is an e-cigarette? The Minister has defined something but basically it is a hardware which is designed to replicate the traditional cigarette smoking experience with the help of batteries, atomiser and e-liquid juice. It produces vapour when current is passed through an atomiser through a battery which evaporates the e-juice. I like to state that it is not marketed as a substitute. No one gives up cigarettes because of e-cigarettes but as a substitute of traditional cigarettes. 

So, there is, as I said a battery. You press a button, then it atomises and then the e-liquid is used. And that’s why I think that the Minister is only touching the fringe of the problems. From his Ordinance, which was hurried, it would seem that it was taking a massive step towards smoking per se. It is not only smoking, chewing tobacco is equally dangerous. Pan Parag and all these things are equally dangerous; zarda is equally dangerous. He is touching only the fringe of the problem with much fanfare. This is what I think should not have happened. So, what you might ask is, what is my solution?

The Minister has taken many steps. He said that the electronic cigarette industry is being taken under his control. Production, manufacture, import, export etc and advertisement will be stopped. Storage of electronic cigarettes will be stopped, all stocks will be taken in control by the authorised officers, and the stocks will be disposed off. This is like what you do for cocaine or marijuana or all such things and if anybody continues this act then his imprisonment may extend to 1 year or more.

Now, I have another question to ask the Hon’ble Minister. He is taking so much trouble to enforce this ban. He will appoint authorised officers to force this ban. But have bans really prevented things from happening? Gujarat has a prohibition, ban on alcohol, for so many years. Has drinking stopped in Gujarat? Bihar has a ban on alcohol for so many years now. Has it stopped the consumption of alcohol in Bihar? The idea of a ban which is very popular in government circles in our country is not efficacious, it’s cumbersome. So you might ask, what is your solution, how do you enforce the ban? The way of enforcing the ban is to price it out of the range of people.

Sir, another suggestion: this ban will ultimately not have much effect. So what we can do is not only for e-cigarettes. They can make it expensive beyond limits and regulate them imposing tax and not ban but make a solution. Make it available beyond the buying capacity seems more reasonable than banning the products. 

But even then, if the government bans e-cigarettes, they should not let cigarettes and beedis to be sold freely, which kills 1.2 million people every year. That is the main question. You are not stopping sale of cigarettes, beedis, gutkha, chewing tobacco, Pan Parag — all these things but you are just banning e-cigarettes, bringing an Ordinance to do the same. As it is, prices of e-cigarette are high. So, if it increases further, it will be more efficacious.

I shall not oppose the Bill. I have got many amendments but I shall not oppose the Bill. So, all I’m saying is that let the Minister consider this. Sir, the Minister in his conclusion has said that the available scientific evidence indicates the use of e-cigarettes is hazardous for active as well as for passive smokers/users. Where is the scientific evidence? He should have quoted the scientific evidence on e-cigarettes. 

Secondly, he has said ICMR has issued a white paper. That white paper has not been circulated to us. ICMR is Indian Council For Medical Research, Sir. That’s not available for us. The International Association of Lung Cancer does not recommend use of e-cigarettes for treating nicotine dependence, even in cancer patients due to absence of sufficient evidence on the efficacy and safety. So even the International Association of Lung Cancer has not recommended the banning of e-cigarettes.

My appeal to you is Sir, that rethink about this e-cigarette. I have given a special Amendment; I have said that he has specified three types of electronic cigarettes. Look at 3(d). Electronic cigarettes means a device which heats a substance with or without nicotine and flavors to create an aerosol (the dhuwa) for inhalation and includes all forms of electronic nicotine delivery system.

I have said that where nicotine is delivered electronically you eliminate them. E-Hookah – you eliminate them. But when they say there are some heat and burn products, we just heat the tobacco but does not burn them, whether they should be classified in the same way? Because Sir, in cigarettes there are three dangerous things. One is the nicotine, second is the paper and third is the tar that is formed. So if the heat is not burned product is used at least tar and paper smoke will not come. So I would like to ask the Hon’ble Minister, whether you would like to rethink on this matter?

Sir, having put my objections thus, let me again say that the most dangerous thing today is chewing tobacco. Fifty one million people are using it. How to ensure that the stock that exists in the market will reach the government? So now he has not done anything about it. Earlier they said that cigarette, beedi etc will not be sold within so many meters of a school or a religious place; that is also not happening. So, the Minister has to take many more steps to ensure the lessening of cigarette smoking, though banning is surely not a way in which it will be lessened. 

With these words, I would again ask the Minister to think of more efficacious ways to cut down on smoking. I know that with tobacco industry giants like ITC, Philip Morris, Godfrey Philips etc. he will not be able to close down the tobacco industry. Thousands and millions of farmers are doing tobacco farming in Andhra Pradesh and other states. He will not be able to meet the challenges of the tobacco farmers’ lobby. So, he has just taken a token step. 

I say again that Dr Harshvardhan, an ENT specialist and a Minister, see I am opposing e-cigarettes. Through this I am paying my token allegiance to the cause of stopping cigarette smoking. I would say that let him rethink on all these points. 

Thank you, Sir.