The Union Health Ministry has taken action against 15 websites engaged in the advertisement and sale of e-cigarettes, which are banned in India. As reported by PTI, official sources have reported that notices have been sent to these websites, directing them to cease their activities related to e-cigarettes. In addition, six more websites are currently under scrutiny, and the ministry is closely monitoring the advertisement and sale of e-cigarettes on social media platforms. It is likely that notices will be issued to these platforms in the near future.
Of the 15 websites that received takedown notices, four have already ceased operations, while the remaining websites have yet to respond, according to an official source quoted by PTI. If these websites fail to comply with the law, the health ministry plans to escalate the matter to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, requesting the takedown of these websites. Legal action will also be pursued against these websites as appropriate.
The Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage, and Advertisement) Act has been in effect since 2019. The health ministry’s notice to the websites highlighted their violation of Section 4 of this Act by hosting, displaying, publishing, transmitting, and sharing illegal information related to online advertisement and sale of e-cigarettes. The notice, authorised under section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in accordance with a government notification dated November 15, 2021, called for the removal of such content without tampering with the evidence.
The notice warned that failure to comply with the directive could be considered as aiding or abetting the transmission of unlawful information or engaging in unlawful activity. The online entities may face prosecution for hosting such information, data, or communication links. Additionally, non-compliance may result in penalties under the IT Act and/or the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Act.
The websites were given 36 hours to respond to the notice. So far, four out of the 15 websites have responded and shut down their operations. The remaining websites are expected to respond soon, and if they fail to do so, further action will be taken, according to the official source.
In February, the ministry had previously urged all states and Union Territories to ensure strict compliance with the e-cigarette ban. It expressed concern about the availability of these devices online and from local vendors, including convenience or stationery stores located near educational institutions, which makes them easily accessible to children. In May, the health ministry issued a public notice emphasising the need for stricter enforcement of the Act. The notice called upon producers, manufacturers, importers, exporters, distributors, advertisers, transporters, social media websites, and online shopping websites to refrain from engaging in any activities related to e-cigarettes.
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