The ministry of health has written to Air India objecting to the sale of e-cigarettes in its flights. The ministry says the sale through Air India's discount booklets, violates the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA) and puts the government in an embarrassing position as it is the implementing authority for COTPA.
“It has been observed that Air India through discount booklets Air Bazaar, distributed on board Air India flight, is selling a tobacco-free “electronic cigarette” with a picture of a model smoking... it is also contrary to our policy of using public conveyance for health promotion messages,” says the letter from Shakuntala Gamlin, joint secretary in the ministry to Rohit Nandan, CMD of Air India.
The law prohibits any direct or indirect advertisement of a tobacco product. However, it is not clear if e-cigarettes are classified as tobacco product. The tobacco control department had earlier written to the drug controller general of India to classify e-cigarettes which are electronic products that deliver a shot of vapourised nicotine, as a drug under Schedule K of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and regulate it accordingly. Usually, e-cigarettes consist of battery-powered heating elements and replaceable cartridges that contain nicotine or other chemicals.
The ministry also holds Air India’s sale of e-cigarettes to be in contempt of Supreme Court’s order of July last year when the court had said that the Central and the state would have to “rigorously implement” the provisions of COTPA.
A senior official of the tobacco control department, speaking on conditions of anonymity, said that COTPA has been invoked for e-cigarettes on the ground that it is applicable to any product that may encourage use of tobacco. A concentrated shot of nicotine does not actually do anything to prevent a tobacco habit and may in fact induce a return to smoking.