"Unfortunately, e-cigarettes got promoted initially as a way in which people can get out of the habit of smoking cigarettes. It was to be a weaning process from using cigarettes," Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Wednesday after a Cabinet meeting.
"The Cabinet rightly thought it is time and we immediately took a decision so that the health of our citizens, of our young, is not thrown to a risk," she added.
Sitharaman said the deaths of seven people in the US following vaping-related sicknesses
had added to local concerns about the impact of e-cigarettes on people's health. Hundreds of people are being treated for lung illness in 36 US states and researchers are investigating if those illnesses are related to the use of e-cigarettes.
She said that an emergency ordinance banning the use of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) will be issued in the coming days. The ordinance will be taken up during the next session of Parliament and converted into law.
Sitharaman added that the ban would cover e-cigarette production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement. It includes all forms of ENDS, heat-not-burn products and e-hookah devices, according to a press release.
People who violate the ban once could face up to one year in prison or a fine of 100,000 rupees ($1,400) or both. For subsequent offenses, the penalty would be five years imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 rupees ($7,000). Storing e-cigarettes would also be punishable with up to six months in prison and a 50,000-rupee ($700) fine.
"These novel products come with attractive appearances and multiple flavors and their use has increased exponentially and has acquired epidemic proportions in developed countries, especially among youth and children," the government said in the release.
The nationwide move came after almost a dozen Indian states had taken similar action.
Vendors with existing stock will have to declare and deposit their remaining e-cigarettes and cartridges at the nearest police station, the statement added.
Some 35 million people around the world are believed to be using e-cigarettes or the newer heat-not-burn products, according to data and research company Euromonitor.
They are popular among smokers in many places who are trying to kick the habit, as they satisfy the urge for nicotine while removing exposure to the tar and toxins of burned tobacco. But many people worry they're creating new addictions to nicotine, particularly among young people.
According to the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report, 39 countries have banned the sale of e-cigarettes or nicotine liquids.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week activated its emergency operations center
to better investigate the outbreak of lung injuries associated with e-cigarettes and the Trump administration has said it is working to ban flavored e-cigarettes. A California man recently became the seventh person to die from a vaping-related illness, health officials said.
Some countries like the UK
encourage the use of e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking combustible cigarettes, but the World Health Organization hasn't thrown its weight behind their use as a cessation aid, citing inconclusive evidence and concerns they pose to non-smokers who start to use them.