In a controversial move, the Union Health Ministry has moved to ban e-cigarettes and similar devices in India.
The Centre claims e-cigarettes pose “a great health risk to public at large, especially to children, adolescents, pregnant women and women of reproductive age”. To this end, it has moved state governments to stop e-cigarettes from being manufactured, imported, sold and advertised.
Similar bans are already enforced in some states states including Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Mizoram, and Punjab.
Concerns have been expressed about the use of e-cigarettes in India for some time – particularly their growing popularity among young people. “Children and youth are attracted to e-cigarette because these have been glamorized by tobacco industry,” Dr. Rakesh Gupta, Deputy Director of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) at the Punjab Health Department, told The New Indian Express on World Tobacco Day last year. This led to fears that, once hooked on nicotine through vaping, youngsters may try cigarettes.
“The Centre claims e-cigarettes pose “a great health risk to public at large, especially to children, adolescents, pregnant women and women of reproductive age”.”
Some, however, have criticised the Centre’s decision to ban e-cigarettes in India. Experts have said that the ban is problematic. In particular, they dispute the suppose gateway effect (where e-cigarette use eventually leads to smoking cigarettes) on young people.
Some even suggest that banning e-cigarettes may prove harmful to public health in the long run. While there has been little investigation into the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, it is widely considered safer to use e-cigarettes than to smoke tobacco. When considering also that many people use e-cigarettes to quit smoking, experts have noted that “failing to explore the use of e-cigarettes could lead to the continued use of conventional cigarettes – which currently kill millions”
This much was pointed out by the director of the Association of Vapers India (AVI) Pratik Gupta. “The hurry to ban e-cigarettes is not understandable,” he said. “E-cigarettes are not only less harmful compared to tobacco cigarettes, but also help smokers wean off the nicotine dependence.” The AVI further claims that smoking rates are actually declining among young people in vaping-friendly countries.
Tobacco use contributes significantly to India’s NCD burden and is believed to be responsible for one million deaths in the country every year. Tobacco control efforts have enjoyed success in India so far, yet 120 million Indians continue to use tobacco in some form every day. As such, the Centre’s ban on e-cigarettes – well-intentioned though it may be – may have to be reconsidered from the angle that it poses an obstacle to responding to one of India’s dominant public health challenges.