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India's health ministry has proposed a ban on the production and import of electronic cigarettes, documents seen by media showed, potentially jeopardising the expansion plans of big firms like Juul Labs and Philip Morris International.
The ministry has proposed that the government issue an executive order banning the devices in the public interest, saying it was needed to ensure e-cigarettes don't become an "epidemic" among children and young adults.
"E-cigarettes and similar technologies that encourage tobacco use or adversely impact public health are hazardous for an active as well as passive user," the health ministry said in an internal note seen by media that the federal cabinet is expected to consider.
Health officials are proposing jail terms of up to three years, with a penalty of up to Rs500,000 ($7,000), for repeat offenders against the new rules, according to a draft of the executive order.
First-time offenders would face a prison term of up to one year and a fine of Rs100,000.
Such orders are typically issued in India as an emergency measure when parliament is not in session. It can lapse if it is not approved when lawmakers convene against in the next session, which will most likely be held around November.
It was not immediately clear whether the draft executive order will face changes, or when it will be approved.
India's health ministry did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
The ministry's plans would deal a blow to U.S.-based Juul Labs Inc, which is hoping to launch its e-cigarette in India and has hired several senior executives in recent months.
Philip Morris also has plans to launch its heat-not-burn smoking device in India, media has reported.
Advocates for the devices say e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking tobacco, because users do not inhale the same dangerous matter.
But many tobacco-control activists are opposed to e-cigarettes, saying they could lead to nicotine addiction and push people to consume tobacco.
"There is evidence that these products are a gateway to tobacco products and induce adolescents and young adults to nicotine use leading to addiction," the health ministry said in the document.
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