The display of electronic cigarettes in some publications of the Air India and civil aviation ministry has been found to violate the laws against tobacco advertising.
In separate letters to the ministry of civil aviation and Air India sent this week, the health ministry said Air India through discount booklets "Air Bazaar", distributed during flights, is selling "Electronic Cigarette" with a picture of a model smoking.
Most e-cigarettes consist of battery-powered heating elements and replaceable cartridges that contain nicotine or other chemicals and an atomizer.
The atomizer when heated vapourises contents of the cartridge, delivering a nicotine shot that a smoker craves, and without subjecting him to other harmful side-effects of traditional cigarettes such as tar.
The letter highlighted that display of e-cigarettes is in contravention of section 5 of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act of 2003 (COTPA) and further tends to put the government in an embarrassing position as the health ministry is the implementing body for the provisions under the law.
Further, the health ministry has asked to take all necessary steps to ensure there is no sale or offer for sale of any product in the airlines, in a manner that promotes the use or consumption of cigarettes or any other tobacco products in violation of the provisions of COTPA.
"Manufacturers are taking advantage of the absence of a clear-cut policy on e-cigarettes. COTPA does not talk about non-tobacco products. This potentially opens the way for tobacco companies to advertise and distribute e-cigarettes alongside other tobacco products," Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director of Voluntary Health Association of India, said Saturday.
In the absence of regulation, e-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular in India, she added.
Over 55 per cent Indians are less than 25 years of age and extremely susceptible to such products. Realising the potential problem, the World Health Organisation (WHO) called for a declaration to ban e-cigarettes during its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control for South-East Asia Region meet in July 2013.
In India, e-cigarettes are marketed "health cigarette" without details of contents, manufacturing date or country of origin, and largely sold illegally.