The government’s ban proposal needs to be welcomed
The Narendra Modi government’s proposal to ban e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) needs to be welcomed as such a move will ensure that Indians, especially, children, are kept away from these pernicious products. Such a ban has also been recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which called for a “complete prohibition on ENDS and e-cigarettes in India in the greater interest of protecting public health, in accordance with the precautionary principle preventing public harm from a noxious agent.” The Health Ministry last year issued an advisory asking the States to ensure that products like e-cigarettes and e-nicotine-flavoured hookahs are not manufactured, distributed advertised or sold. Following this, 15 States, including Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir and Mizoram, banned them. Several of the bans were under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act or the Poisons Act, under which nicotine was included as a ‘poison’. Further, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (Anti-Smuggling Unit) and the Drug Controller General of India directed all their officials to ensure compliance with the advisory. Introduced about 10 years ago in India, e-cigarettes rapidly gained popularity, especially among the youth. A misconception among students, parents and teachers that these cigarettes are free of nicotine also contributed to their appeal. The reality is that the tobacco industry, hit by the success of the state’s efforts to reduce tobacco use otherwise, had developed such products to hold on to customers who would have otherwise quit. Research suggests that many youngsters, who would otherwise have never started using nicotine, took up conventional smoking after being introduced to e-cigarettes. The tobacco industry plans to expand by achieving these twin objectives — attracting more youngsters and reducing quitting by adults. After all, the industry’s end goal is profit and not improvement in health indicators. The fact that the industry continues to produce and sell conventional cigarettes, its flagship product that brings it the greatest amount of profit, despite marketing e-cigarettes as an alternative is evidence enough of its sinister design. A recent white paper by the ICMR and several other research studies have contradicted several claims of the industry. First, the industry says that ENDS products provide a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes. However, the reality is that ENDS users are almost at the same risk of contracting lung diseases and cancer as conventional cigarette users. In fact, ‘dual users’ are at greater risk of heart attacks. All these points make it clear that the Central government has shown great foresight in bringing out the ban proposal, a move that is likely to avoid causing another epidemic of nicotine addiction in the country. The ban needs to apply to all forms of ENDS products, including all ‘heat-not-burn’ devices that profess to be an alternative to the existing tobacco products.
Amit Yadav is a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco