Experts have spoken out against the Centre’s push against e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), questioning the merits of an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) paper concerning the devices’ effects on health.
Writing to the ICMR Director-General, the 62 experts from across twenty countries asserted that the Council’s claims about the detrimental effects of using ENDS are based on selective evidence, failing to offer a balanced overview of what the broader consensus and body of evidence concerning ENDS actually suggests. As such, they noted that the position of the ICMR – and, by extension, the Centre – is contrary to most public health bodies and the scientific community, who promote the use of ENDS as a smoking cessation tool.
The experts cited research conducted by representatives from a number of organisations across the world, including Dr Atul Ambekar of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the Indian Psychiatric Society. Based on the research’s findings, the experts claimed that there is a positive link between ENDS use and reducing or quitting smoking, whilst also questioning claims that ENDS use provides a gateway into tobacco use and are as or more detrimental to health as inhaling tobacco smoke.
The ICMR has called for a ban on ENDS, claiming that they have “documented adverse effects on humans, which include DNA damage; carcinogenic, cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity; respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders; and adverse impact on [foetal] development and pregnancy.” In addition, they claim that “there is…evidence that there is risk of people continuing to use both them as well as tobacco products. In addition, these devices could encourage non-smokers to get addicted to tobacco.” However, this stance and proposals of a ban have regularly been criticised by both the industry and experts.
Arguments against banning ENDS include that, given their potential value as a tool to quit smoking, targeting them for scrutiny and criticism in lieu of conventional tobacco products is misplaced. This is especially salient in India, given that tobacco use kills one person every eight seconds in India. Many have pointed out that banning ENDS will simply drive them underground and allow a black market to flourish, free from regulatory oversight. Already cases of an e-cigarette black market have been observed in India.
Despite criticism of the ICMR and the Centre’s overtures against ENDS, multiple states have banned the devices and the Centre is reportedly on track to initiate a ban at the national level, to stop ENDS being produced or distributed in India. As such, the controversy over the Centre’s anti-ENDS push is unlikely to dissipate soon – especially if the concerns raised by experts begin to materialise.