By Aditya Kalra and Manas Mishra
NEW DELHI/BENGALURU (Reuters) – India’s government has no plan to roll back a ban on electronic cigarettes, an official told Reuters on Saturday, as protests against the move by vapers in six cities drew scant support.
India banned the sale and import of e-cigarettes this month, warning of an “epidemic” of vaping among young people.
The action has affected users nationwide and the plans of international companies including Juul Labs Inc and Philip Morris International, as well as triggering court challenges by local firms.
Protesters convened on Saturday to call for vaping devices to be regulated rather than prohibited. But organizers Association of Vapers India said only about 400 people turned up across six cities, adding that some opponents of the ban feared being targeted by police.
At one protest in the capital New Delhi, several people used vaping devices. Among them sat a child with a poster that read: “I don’t want my dad to be a smoker”.
The government argues the ban is essential to protect people as vaping can lead to nicotine addiction and push users toward consuming tobacco. Vapers say the devices help them stay away from more harmful tobacco cigarettes.
More than 900,000 people die each year due to tobacco-related illnesses in India, the government estimates. But the country has 106 million adult smokers, second only to China, making it a lucrative potential market for companies selling both tobacco and vaping products.
An Indian health ministry official said the government was determined to stick by its ban, despite the protests and court challenges. “There is no question of a rollback or anything like that,” the official said.
Two court challenges that could be pivotal for whether the ban can continue to be enforced are under way in the eastern city of Kolkata, including one by e-cigarette importer Plume Vapour.
The company, in a court filing seen by Reuters, argues that the ban will allow cigarette companies to flourish while putting e-cigarette firms out of business.
New Delhi protester Aryaman Chaudhary, 25, said he stocked up on vape refills ahead of the ban, but was worried he would eventually run out. “I just want this regulated, not banned … Everybody has an addiction.”
(Reporting by Aditya Kalra; editing by John Stonestreet)