The government has taken the ordinance route for the ban. "These novel products come with attractive appearances and multiple flavours and their use has increased exponentially and acquired epidemic proportions in developed countries, especially among youth and children," the health ministry said. The ban covers hookah bars as well.
The ordinance prohibits storage of any stock of e-cigarettes and states that any existing stock will have to be disposed of from the date of promulgation of the ordinance.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and I&B minister Prakash Javadekar said smoking e-cigarettes, also called vaping, poses health hazards through nicotine and other chemical ingredients.
The ordinance will come into force once approved by the President. It will be converted into a bill in the next session of Parliament.
TOI was the first to report on June 12 that Cabinet approval of a ban on e-cigarettes was imminent.
First-time violators of the ban on production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale and advertisements of e-cigarettes will face a jail term of up to one year and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. For subsequent offences, jail term of up to three years or a fine of Rs 5 lakh, or both, has been prescribed.
Storage of e-cigarettes shall also be punishable with jail term of up to six months or fine up to Rs 50,000, or both.
Answering questions whether the more widespread consumption of normal tobacco cigarettes needed more urgent action, Javadekar said several measures have been taken to curb their use in public spaces and offices and the ban on e-cigarettes is intended to curb a new and growing addiction that leads users towards regular tobacco products.
Sitharaman, who had headed a group of ministers on the issue, said the Cabinet decided to ban e-cigarettes and similar products as they pose a health risk to people, especially the youth.
In a factsheet, the John Hopkins Centre for Prevention of Heart Disease says nicotine is highly addictive, spikes adrenaline and, over time, increases heart attack risk. Rather than helping to quit smoking, users end up smoking regular cigarettes. Consumption of e-cigarettes has been rising among high school students.
Public health experts said e-cigarettes pose significant health risks similar to conventional cigarettes. "The decision to prohibit e-cigarettes will help protect our people, especially the youth and children, from the risk of addiction through e-cigarettes.
They are being marketed as a harm-reduction product which is contrary to the truth," says Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, chief executive, Voluntary Health Association of India.
However, e-cigarette promoting trade bodies, users and other stakeholders slammed the move to ban the "alternative" smoking device, alleging it was a "draconian" step taken in haste to protect the conventional cigarette industry and alleged that people are being deprived of a safer alternative to smoking.
The government's decision is backed by recommendations from several expert groups, public health advocates and research organisations.
The Indian Council of Medical Research and the ministry's expert committee with representatives from AIIMS and the National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research strongly backed the decision.
The suggestions were also endorsed by the government's top drug advisory body - the Drugs Technical Advisory Board - in June.
Eighteen states and two Union territories have already prohibited the use and sale of e-cigarettes, e-hookah and vaping, but in the absence of a central law, the enforcement has been weak so far.
The Association of Vapers India, an organisation representing e-cigarette users, said it is a black day for 11 crore smokers in India who have been deprived of safer options. "The ordinance will put lives at risk.
The haste shown by the government in enacting a ban indicates it is more concerned about protecting the cigarette industry than improving public health," said Samrat Chowdhery, AVI director and "harm reduction advocate".
Currently, there are over 460 e-cigarette brands with varied configurations of nicotine delivery and over 7,700 flavours available in the market.