India’s health ministry issues warning to 15 platforms selling vape

On July 18, Indian news media reported that the Indian health ministry sent message notices to 15 websites selling e-cigarettes, asking them to stop advertising and selling e-cigarettes, which are strictly banned in India, according to official sources familiar with the matter. Apart from this, six other websites are also under surveillance and the health department is likely to issue notices to them soon.

Of these 15 websites, four have already ceased operations while the others are yet to respond, sources close to the matter said.

“If they do not respond and comply with the law, the health department will write to the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to shut down these websites. Legal action will also be taken against these websites.” The source said.

According to the source, India’s Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transportation, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Act came into force in 2019.

A notice issued by the health department to the website said, “We have ascertained that there is information regarding online advertisement and sale of illegal e-cigarettes being published, displayed, disseminated and shared on your platform, but this is illegal under Section 4 of the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Act.”

“In view of the above, under the provisions of Section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and pursuant to the government notification dated November 15, 2021, you are hereby authorized to be requested to disable or remove without prejudice to the evidence any of the information identified in the attached documents.” The message notice said.

The message notice warns that failure to follow this directive “may constitute an act of aiding/abetting the dissemination of such unlawful information or engaging in such unlawful activity, and, depending on the circumstances, you may be prosecuted for providing such information, data, or links to communications.”

Apart from this, the message notice states that failure to take necessary steps may be penalized under the Information Technology Act and/or the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Act.

The health department has asked these online platforms to respond within 36 hours of receiving the message notice.

“Out of these 15 online platforms, four have replied and shut down their operations. We are still waiting for the rest to reply, failing which further action will be taken,” official sources said.

The health department in February had written to states and union territories to ensure effective compliance with the ban on e-cigarettes and expressed concern that the devices were still being sold online and at local vendors.

In a letter to the chief secretary, health department secretary Rajesh Bushani said there were also reports of devices such as e-cigarettes being sold in convenience or stationery stores and near educational institutions, leading to easy access to these products by children.

In May, the health department issued a public notice demanding strict enforcement of the E-Cigarette Prohibition Act and directing all producers, manufacturers, importers, exporters, distributors, advertisers, and transporters, including courier companies, social media sites, and online shopping sites, to produce, procure, or sell e-cigarettes directly or indirectly.