Vaping ban in India: Health experts support; tobacco farmers and merchants oppose

Tobacco merchants appeal to the Cabinet to reconsider the draft ordinance intended to ban e-cigarettes

By Rohan Gupta
Published: Monday 16 September 2019
An e-cigarette. Photo: Getty Images

Tobacco merchants request the government to reconsider its move to ban Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS) products, commonly known as e-cigarettes or vaping. 

The Gujarat Tobacco Merchants Association (GTMA), in an advertisement in a news daily recently, appealed to Cabinet ministers to give the draft ordinance, which intends to ban vaping in India, another look.  If the ban is imposed, "the only result would be losses to revenue farmers and tobacco traders and consumers would be adversely impacted", read the ad.

Piloted by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the draft ordinance seeks to prohibit the sale, manufacturing, transport, export, import, distribution or advertisement of e-cigarettes by imposing a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh on first-time offenders.

The fine amount and jail term for repeat offenders can go up to Rs 5 lakh and 3 years, respectively. Storage of e-cigarettes can lead to a jail term of 6 months or a fine up to Rs 50,000 or both.

India's 16 states have already banned e-cigarettes, after the health ministry issued a directive last year urging states to put a curb on vaping in their respective states. The existing bans are not very effective as Down To Earth found that online retailers are still delivering vaping products to states where it is prohibited.

Besides the advertisement put out by GTMA, others have also spoken out about how a vaping ban in India is turning into a bone of contention with the medical fraternity and the government on one side and tobacco farmers and vaping merchants on the other.

“The government owns 28 per cent of ITC, a leading manufacturer of cigarettes, which means it is directly profiteering from the cigarette trade, along with earning thousands of crores in taxes on cigarettes,” said Samrat Choudhery, founder of Association of Vapers India.

An outright ban would lead to the creation of a black market, which will put consumers at risk, defeating the entire purpose of prohibition, he added.

“The Association of Vapers welcomes regulation and taxes but a ban will kill conversation surrounding its health effects which are still unclear,” he said.

Is vaping really deadly?

Part of the reason as to why supporters of vaping are refusing to accept a ban is because, as Choudhery said, its ill-effects are still not very clear.

Supporters of vaping cite estimates by Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians which indicate that vaping is 85 per cent safer than smoking combustible cigarettes.

Others disagree. On the eve of World Tobacco Day 2019, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had released a paper proposing a complete ban on vaping citing its adverse health effects.

The paper said a typical vape cartridge contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes which can lead to nicotine addiction. The study also mentioned that the liquid-vaporising solutions contain toxic chemicals and metals than can lead to adverse health effects including cancer and injuries to the heart, brain and lungs.

"After reviewing about 250 to 300 reports, we came out with a white paper concluding that vaping was hazardous to health. But since the long-term health impacts of vaping are not yet clear, we recommended that the government prohibit it completely unless more research comes out giving more clarity on the issue,” Joy Kumar Chakma, co-author of the paper, told Down To Earth.

The conversation surrounding health hazards of vaping has been in the forefront of public health issues after American states reported vaping-related deaths. Till date, six deaths have been confirmed in six states. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest press release reveals that as of September 11, 2019, 380 confirmed and probable cases of lung diseases associated with vaping had been reported by 36 states and the US Virgin Islands.

“Vaping is relatively a more recent trend in India than in the US, which may be the reason why no reports of vaping-related health issues have emerged in India. Another reason is that vaping products in India are not potent enough,” said Arjun Khanna, a pulmonologist in Ghaziabad.

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