The Goa state government is under renewed pressure to ban e-cigarettes, a move already undertaken by a number of other states.
NGOs Consumer Voice and the National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication (NOTE) appealed to the state government to ban the devices, with Consumer Voice chief operating officer Ashim Sanyal asserting that “several research studies have time and again proven that e-cigarettes are as dangerous as tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarettes are being marketed as a harm reduction and ‘safe’ product, which is contrary to the truth.” Shekar Salkar, secretary of NOTE, added that “newer forms of addiction are destroying our younger generation”, citing evidence that 9.7 percent of Goa adults consume some form of tobacco.
E-cigarettes, part of a class of devices known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), have been scrutinised heavily in the past year ever since a Union Health Ministry directive issued last August called on state governments to ban them. Much of the criticism has centred around the supposed role of ENDS as a gateway into nicotine addiction which could encourage young people to take up smoking. Earlier research by Consumer Voice found that, of illegal e-cigarettes brands sold in India over the past three years, buyers mainly belonged to the 12-25 age demographic.
This is not the first time Goa has been asked to join other state governments who have prohibited e-cigarettes. On World No Tobacco Day this year, NOTE, Consumer Voice, and Manipal Hospitals convened an event in the state encouraging strict anti-tobacco policies and the prohibition of e-cigarettes.
To date, the state governments of Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh have imposed bans on e-cigarettes. In addition, the Gujarat state government is planning to follow suit.
At the national level, the Union Health Ministry has repeatedly pushed for the distribution, sale, and importation of e-cigarettes to be banned. A number of government bodies have raised alarms about the potential negative health effects of e-cigarettes. The Indian Council of Medical Research linked their use to “DNA damage; carcinogenic, cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity; respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders; and adverse impact on fetal development and pregnancy.”
Efforts to ban e-cigarettes may soon bear fruit thanks to the Drug and Technical Advisory Board bringing them under the purview of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act as smoking cessation devices. This would make it easier for the Health Ministry to ban the devices on the grounds that they pose a risk to health.
It is clear that the momentum against e-cigarettes is not abating in India. One can question, however, if positioning them quite so directly in the firing line in lieu of traditional tobacco products is a wise course of action in a nation where fourteen percent of adults smoke tobacco and 25.9 percent of adults use smokeless tobacco. As previously noted by Health Issues India
“The scientific body of evidence as to the adverse effects of ENDS is still emerging and, therefore, limited. Subsequently, it would be wrongful for the Union Health Ministry to not be vigilant when examining the devices. However, a blanket ban may only drive ENDS underground and outside of the purview of government regulation.”
It is also worth noting that there is no consensus as to whether e-cigarettes are effective at helping users quit tobacco, but it is generally agreed that they are less harmful than conventional tobacco products. Therefore, it is important that as authorities pursue action against e-cigarettes, they continue to fight against conventional tobacco products.