Last December, the country’s ministry of electronics and IT (MeitY) proposed changes to India’s Information Technology Act, which would require web platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter, to remove online content that promotes Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS).

The draft regulations had caused an uproar amidst the vaping community. “The guideline is very vague,” Samrat Chowdhery, director of the Association of Vapers India (AVI), a consumer rights group that promotes tobacco harm reduction. “It says ‘promotion’ of ENDS. That could also mean (a ban on content) communicating the risk differential—telling people that vaping is substantially safer than smoking.”

The AVI sets the record straight

The AVI was amongst the bodies who have submitted comments to the government, pointing out that that the implication that ENDS are as harmful as cigarettes and alcohol, is a “serious case of spreading misinformation.” No Indians, said the AVI, “should be denied information or access to technology that can save their lives.”

In response to such submissions, India’s MeitY may be changing its stance. “We do not, in fact, understand vaping and ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems). All those things actually became known to us after the comments which we started receiving from people,” said Rakesh Maheshwari, scientist and group coordinator of cyber law at MeitY. “If vaping is actually promoting reduction of cigarettes, reduction of intoxicants, reduction of any harmful things, then from our perspective, there is nothing illegal in it,” added Maheshwari.

Vaporizers remain in a legal grey area

MeitY pointed out that it plans on keeping the public health provision in the rules. “We will probably be retaining anything which promotes anything which is contrary to the safety and health of people, including cigarettes and intoxicants,” said Maheshwari. “That is where we will stop, probably.”

Vaping products remain in a legal grey area in India, they are banned in eight of 29 states but not nationally. In an advisory to state governments, last August India’s health ministry said that e-cigarettes and Heat not Burn devices are a “great health risk”, and suggested that all states should ban them.

Read Further: Quartz India

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