The Centre’s proposed policy on vaping is in contrast to its policy on cigarette/beedi smoking.
While a UK government health agency has been advising people to substitute cigarettes with vaping, the Indian government is mulling a law to ban the latter. Public Health England—an executive agency under the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom—maintains that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking cigarettes. But the Indian health ministry has proposed a ban on the vaping and e-cigarettes. To be sure, many Indian states already have such a ban in place. But, there is no central law banning e-cigarettes and vapes. The proposed ban would entail a three-year jail term and a `5 lakh fine for repeat offenders, and comes at a time when industry majors like Juul Labs and Philip Morris International were thinking about expanding their e-cigarette and vape markets in India. At the same time, there is no proposal to ban cigarettes/beedis and chewing tobacco.
Although the ministry and the states have cited health concerns for banning e-cigarettes, the problem is the government’s unbalanced approach to the tobacco industry. For one, e-cigarettes being an expensive proposition—cheapest ones cost `500, with pods or liquids costing more—were only expected to replace cigarettes. More important, India’s tobacco problem is largely beedi-linked. While successive governments keep hiking cigarette duties—they pay an excise duty of around 50% right now—beedis get taxed at around 2-3%, and chewing tobacco pays around 5-6%. Moreover, while VAT rates differ from state to state, they are roughly 26% for cigarettes and 8-10% for beedis and chewing tobacco.
As a result, as share of cigarettes halved from around 20% since the 1980s, there has been little drop in overall tobacco consumption. Given that the tobacco industry pays taxes to the tune of 2% of central tax revenues, and employs 7 million people, vapes are certainly not the issue if the government wishes to control addiction.