Health Ministry in an Embarrassing Position

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National carrier Air India’s decision to sell electronic cigarettes on flights has left the health ministry fuming.

It has written to the aviation ministry saying Air India’s act violates the law against smoking and defeats the government’s purpose in implementing the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003.

Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes have of late gained prominence. Though they are touted as safer alternatives to normal cigarettes, it is still to be proved medically.

The health ministry said in its communication that the e-cigarette’s advertisement of a model smoking has put the government in an “embarrassing position”. The law prohibits promotion of smoking directly or indirectly.

Legal experts say Air India should have exercised caution before promoting such a product since it is a government entity. The aviation ministry and Air India have been asked not to sell e-cigarettes. Air India refused to comment on the matter.

E-cigarettes are electronic sticks containing vaporised nicotine and are battery-powered. Some contain a mix of nicotine and various flavours. In July 2013, the World Health Organisation said it is still to be proved scientifically that e-cigarettes help a person quit smoking. In fact, the UN body advised people not to smoke e-cigarettes till some regulatory body comes up with definite results.

The Union, which is a leading international organisation working on lung health issues, says the use of e-cigarettes should be regulated like medicines.

“Marketing messages of e-cigarette companies mislead people into believing that these products are safe for users as well as for those who would be exposed to second-hand smoke. But our evidence suggests otherwise,” José Luis Castro, interim executive director of The Union, said.


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