In a partial setback to the government proposal to a blanket ban on e-cigarette, the Calcutta High Court has passed an interim order staying the ordinance which asked e-cigarette vendors to surrender their stocks to authorities for disposal.
The order, for a temporary period, put clauses (a) and (b) under Section 5 of the ordinance on hold. It means the owner or occupier of the e-cigarette stock does not need to surrender the stock in the possession and authorize officer would not initiate disposing of the same until next order.
“The requirement of submission of stock, specified in the list, to be submitted to the nearest office of the authorized officer, as a requirement under clause (a) under the said proviso, will also remain stayed. The authorized officer, if feels necessary, will verify the inventory made on the list submitted. It is clarified, there is to be no disposal,” said Justice Arindam Sinha in the order.
The Court also directed that no coercive actions be taken against e-cigarette companies. Though, the ban on the sale of e-cigarettes has not stayed.
E-cigarettes importer Plume Vapour and e-cigarette firm Woke Vapors, in a plea, had challenged govt decision to ban e-cigarette instead of regulating it.
They alleged that the ban by the govt violates fundamental rights and discriminatory. The petitioners said e-cigarettes are less harmful while sale and advertisements of combustible tobacco products like cigarettes and bidis, which are far more harmful to health, continue to be sold in the market.
Senior lawyer AM Singhvi pressing for interim relief said the verbal imagery is being made to attach fear to the e-cigarette. E-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible tobacco, he added.
On September 18, the Union Cabinet had approved a ban on the production, manufacture and advertisement of e-cigarettes in the country.
“The Cabinet has taken a decision to ban e-cigarettes in nine forms including production, manufacturing, export, import, transport or sale, distribution, storage and advertisement related to e-cigarettes”, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said.
E-cigarettes and similar technologies that encourage tobacco use or adversely impact public health are hazardous for an active as well as passive user, she added.
Govt recommended that e-cigarettes do not become a widespread occurrence among the youth of the country.
For offenders, it proposed jail term up to one year and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. In the case of repeat offenders, the jail term is increased to 3 years with Rs 5 lakh fine.
Indian govt will take up an ordinance on the subject and present it in the next session of parliament.
The court is scheduled for the next hearing on November 14.
Meanwhile, the decision to ban on e-cigarettes is a setback for US-based Juul Labs, which has a presence in almost 21 countries and has been eyeing Indian market. Juul’s products are quite popular and are being sold in the country even without its official entry. It is said to have significant market share in $40-50 million e-cigarette market.
The US-based firm sees India as one of the lucrative markets for expansion of its products. Last year, it also had set up an advocacy office in India. The company had recruited people for senior executive positions to head government relations early this year.
But no lobby seems to have worked. It has almost flunked in convincing govt into regulating e-cigarettes instead of banning. The ongoing legal battle in courts is its last hope.