New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government Wednesday banned the use, sale, manufacture, distribution and advertisement of e-cigarettes in India. The decision, announced by Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Nirmala Sitharaman at a press conference, was taken due to an alarming rise in vaping among the young population.
“The Union cabinet has taken a decision to ban e-cigarettes. It means the production, manufacturing, import/export, sale, storage and advertising of e-cigarettes are banned. This is keeping in mind the impact it is having on the youth today,” Sitharaman said.
Javadekar also said government measures have led to a reduction in public smoking too.
Referring to the recent deaths linked to vaping in the US, Finance Minister Sitharaman said, “There have been seven deaths that are directly linked to e-cigarettes. There has been a 78 per cent increase in the use of e-cigarettes by high school students and a 900 per cent rise among others in the US alone. Currently, 300 million US citizens use e-cigarettes.”
According to a data by TRENDS — the trade representatives of ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) in India — there are around 2.6 lakh vapers in India while the overall population of smokers (including tobacco-based and beedi) exceed 12 crore.
What led to the ban
The government’s decision is based on a white paper released in May this year by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s apex medical research body, which had advocated for a ban while explaining the potential hazard of e-cigarettes.
“Use of ENDS or e-cigarettes has documented adverse effects on humans, which include DNA damage; carcinogenic, cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity; respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders; and adverse impact on fetal development and pregnancy,” the ICMR had said in its study.
In the same month, over 1,000 students and teachers along with several public health organisations had appealed to PM Modi to enforce a complete ban on e-cigarettes and other ENDS which include e-hookahs and vaping too. “There is gross misinformation about the harmful effects of these products among adolescents as they perceive these as ‘fun devices’ that are safe,” they had said, in a letter addressed to the prime minister.
There are over 460 brands of e-cigarettes available in India, with over 7,700 vaping flavours. Some of the popular vaping devices include JUUL, KarmaX, Smok Nord and E-leaf – costing anywhere between Rs 2,000 and Rs 15,000.
In March, over 1,000 doctors across the country had also written to the prime minister to prohibit manufacture and sale of ENDS. The physicians had said that victims of tobacco were being influenced by the “ENDS lobby” who promote e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device.
Lack of regulation
An unregulated e-cigarette market and easy availability has been blamed by medical practitioners for the rising number of health complications among young Indians. Several physicians had earlier told ThePrint that there has been a spurt in illnesses linked to vaping.
“Patients have doubled in the last year alone. In 2018, there were around two patients a month who suffered from vaping-related complications. This year, I have already seen around four patients in one month,” Dr Navneet Sood, consultant, Pulmonology, at Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital in Delhi had said.
Draconian move, say vapers
Slamming the government for approving an ordinance prohibiting manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes, the Association of Vapers India (AVI), an organisation that represents e-cigarette users across the country, said it was a “black day” for 11 crore smokers in India who have been deprived of safer options.
The TRENDS data also showed that e-cigarettes, which are priced anywhere between Rs 2,500 and Rs 4,000, is restricted to the affluent class. “Healthcare cost of beedi smoking to nation is Rs 80,550 crore as per the Centre for Public Policy Research (Kerala) whereas e-cigarette impact is unknown since it is a new category,” the study noted.
“The government’s decision to ban e-cigarettes is ironic and erratic. It proposes that a safer alternative to smoking is sought to be banned while the more dangerous product will continue to be sold,” said Praveen Rikhy, convener of TRENDS in India.
The promoters also blamed the influence of powerful tobacco and anti-tobacco lobbies behind the government’s decision. “We are convinced of the merits of e-cigarettes and will initiate a formal campaign to help legislators understand the issue, clarify misinformation spread by lobby groups and support farmers who see growth in the e-cigarette sector as a global market opportunity to export nicotine,” added Rikhy.