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India may revise plans to restrict online promotion of e-cigarettes

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is likely to walk back the stance on vaping laid out as part of its proposed rules for policing internet content, reports Aria Thaker for Quartz India.

This follows submissions made by India’s fledgling vaping community that using e-cigarettes is not as harmful as smoking or chewing tobacco, and therefore should not be included in the rules.

”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,” Rakesh Maheshwari, scientist and group coordinator of cyber law at the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), toldQuartz.

“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,” Maheshwari added.

The draft amendments to India’s IT Act, released last December, require web platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter to remove content deemed unlawful or unsafe.

One type of content that the draft rules flagged for removal is anything that “threatens public safety”, including promotion of alcohol, cigarettes, and ENDS – a category that includes e-cigarettes and other vaping methods.

India’s vaping community has been fuming over the inclusion of ENDS in the draft rules. The Association of Vapers India (AVI), in its detailed submissions to MeitY on 31 January, argued that the amendments, as currently framed, would prevent public health education on how vaping and e-cigarettes are less-risky alternatives to smoking.

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

ENDS currently lie in a legal grey area in India – they are banned in eight of 29 states but not nationally, though the health ministry has introduced a non-binding advisory suggesting that states ban e-cigarettes.

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