In a milestone move that would have exponential impact, the Government of India has protected generations from nicotine addiction, reiterating it’s commitment to protect and promote health and wellness amongst its citizens, especially young people.
While the E-cigarette ban ordinance comes into effect on September 18, it continues to be widely debated and discussed in the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech at the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, stated that the growing craze of e-cigarettes in India was worrisome and therefore, to protect the youth from this grave danger, India has banned e-cigarettes.
The political will to get rid of this menace is very high and it is being widely applauded by tobacco-control experts. However, there are many experts, doctors and organizations who are questioning the ban. They all argue about the harm – reduction aspect of e-cigarette over traditional cigarettes. Mainstream and social media is flooded by this harm-reduction lobby citing individual rights, safer alternatives, de-addiction tool and many more ill-informed and industry supported arguments.
Efficacy and safety of e-cigarettes as a quitting aid have not yet been firmly established by research. Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi from Tata Memorial Hospital, said, “The tobacco lobbys’ argument that e-cigarettes are less harmful, is based on a study which was completely flawed and authors had serious conflict of interest.” The tobacco industry was in fact creating an additional market segment for nicotine-based products as well as sustaining the existing cigarette market.
The tobacco industry has always been one step ahead of all regulations – Gutkha ban being a case example. Gutkha was banned by FSSAI in 2011, following which the Supreme Court also gave strict directives of enforcement. To circumvent the ban, gutkha companies started selling pan masala separately with pure tobacco – for the users to mix and chew.
Recently, the National Tobacco Testing Laboratory has also found nicotine in many pan masalas, contrary to what the packaging claims. A similar regulation on e-cigarettes would become challenging as it would lead to more legal battles and testing and enforcement nightmares for the officials.
It was imperative to therefore, ban e-cigarettes before they take over the population and addict a large section like gutkha did in the 1990s. A complete ban on e-cigarette will make it inaccessible to the youth.
India has taken long strides in the last decade with a 17 per cent relative reduction in overall tobacco use prevalence and about 23 per cent relative reduction in smoking prevalence alone. The prevalence of e-cigarettes smoking is only 0.02 per cent as of the latest GATS (2016-17). Hence, it is very clear that vaping did not have any role whatsoever in reducing the smoking prevalence during the 7 years between two GATS.