On Wednesday, the government promulgated an Ordinance to ban electronic cigarettes in India. In this context, we look at what are electronic cigarettes, what are the current regulations in place, and what the Ordinance seeks to do.
What are electronic cigarettes?
The Ordinance defines electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as battery-operated devices that heat a substance, which may or may not contain nicotine, to create vapour for inhalation. These e-cigarettes can also contain different flavours such as menthol, mango, watermelon, and cucumber. Usually, e-cigarettes are shaped like conventional tobacco products (such as cigarettes, cigars, or hookahs), but they also take the form of everyday items such as pens and USB memory sticks.
Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and therefore are not regulated under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003. This Act regulates the sale, production, and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products in India, and prohibits advertisement of cigarettes.
What are the international regulations for e-cigarettes?
India is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which was developed in response to the globalisation of the tobacco epidemic. In 2014, the WHO FCTC invited all its signatories to consider prohibiting or regulating e-cigarettes in their countries. This was suggested due to emerging evidence on the negative health impact of these products which could result in lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and other illnesses associated with smoking.
Since then, several countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, and Thailand have banned the production, manufacture, and sale of e-cigarettes. Recently, the states of New York and Michigan in USA banned the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes. Whereas, in UK, the manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes has been allowed based on certain conditions. Further, the advertisement and promotion, and the levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes is also regulated.
Prior to the Ordinance, were e-cigarettes regulated in India?
In August 2018, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released an advisory to all states requiring them to not approve any new e-cigarettes and restrict the sale and advertisements of e-cigarettes. Based on this advisory, 15 states including Delhi, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh have since banned e-cigarettes. However, this advisory was challenged in the Delhi High Court in March 2019, which subsequently imposed a stay on the ban.
What does the Ordinance do?
The Ordinance prohibits the production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution and advertisement of e-cigarettes in India. Any person who contravenes this provision will be punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, or a fine of one lakh rupees, or both. For any subsequent offence, the person will be punishable with an imprisonment of up to three years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees.
Additionally, storage of e-cigarettes will be punishable with an imprisonment of up to six months, or a fine of Rs 50,000 or both. Once the Ordinance comes into force (i.e., on September 18, 2019), the owners of existing stocks of e-cigarettes will have to declare and deposit these stocks at the nearest office of an authorised officer. Such an authorised officer may be a police officer (at least at the level of a sub-inspector), or any other officer as notified by the central or state government.
Note that, the Ordinance does not contain any provisions regarding possession or use of e-cigarettes. The Ordinance will be in force for the next six months, and must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of the commencement of the next session of Parliament. If it is not passed within this time frame, it will cease to be in force.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.