This article is written by Janvi Johar, 2nd year student pursuing B.A.LLB (H) from Amity University, Noida.
‘Young people use e-cigarettes to look cool’ is India’s major concern. On 18th September 2019 an executive order was passed to ban the production, import, sale, storage and advertisements of vaping products in India because of its rising popularity among the youth. First-time offenders could face up to one year in prison and a Rs1 lakh ($1,397) fine, subsequent violations will cost up to three years in jail and a Rs5 lakh fine. The ordinance will be taken up for discussion in the next session of parliament on 2nd December 2019
WHAT ARE E-CIGARETTES?
E-cigarettes or Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS) are devices that do not burn or use tobacco leaves. They vaporise a solution using a battery which is inhaled by a user. World Health Organization states that in addition to nicotine, the main constituents are propylene glycol with or without glycerol and flavouring agents. Most of the e- cigarettes resemble ordinary cigarettes. Although many latest bands resemble pens or whistles. The effectiveness of e-cigarettes depends highly on the products ability to heat the solution. Thus, stronger the voltage and circuit, faster will the solution heat so that it vaporises. Factors such as frequency, length of inhalation, etc. also affect the amount of nicotine consumed.
E-CIGARETTES MARKET IN INDIA
India’s e-cigarette market is divided among vaporizer, vape mod, cigar –a-like and T-vapour. It would not be wrong to say that fall in the percentage of regular and traditional smoking has led to the increasing use of e-cigarettes.
On July 10, 2019, it was noted by the Parliament that e-cigarettes worth $ 1,91,781 were imported in India between 2016-17 and 2018-19. These were mostly imported from China, the USA, Hong Kong and Germany. According to a report by US Food and Drug Administration, the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose to 3.62 million in 2018. Besides this, it estimates that between 2017 and 2018, e-cigarettes use saw an increase of 78 per cent among high school students and 48 per cent among middle school students.
Addiction to smoking has been a major concern for all cigarette users in India. E-cigarette brands tapped this problem and advertised their product as an alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. Not only this ‘cost efficiency’ also became a motivating factor to increase the number of e-cigarette users as even though the initial cost is high but in the long term it is less expensive.
Nowadays the debate on whether e-cigarettes have become a plausible health risk or not is an alarming question. Although it would not be wrong to say that the power of an e-cigarette depends on the delivery of nicotine. Thus, if the nicotine delivery is quick and powerful, the e-cigarette would be no different from a conventional cigarette. The nicotine delivering capacity varies from one brand to another along with the strength of the solution and the puffing behaviour of the user. Usage of nicotine blurs the distinction between e- cigarettes and conventional cigarettes.
Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and their presence in e-cigarettes underlines the fact that they are equally addictive, if not more than conventional cigarettes. Many report suggests that it may function as a tumour promoter if not a carcinogen. Last but not the least, nicotine has adverse effects during pregnancy and may contribute to cardiovascular disease.
India is a home to 100 million smokers which contribute to 12% of all tobacco users around the globe and The Association of Vapours India (AVI) uses this as a defence and calls the ban as a black day for smokers who are now being deprived of safer alternatives than conventional cigarettes. Contributing to this fact is a report by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, titled as the ‘Global Adult Tobacco Survey’ which states that India has dubious distinction of showing low smoke quitting rates.
ARE E-CIGARETTES AN ALTERNATIVE?
When a company makes a claim that their product could treat a disease or addiction then it has to provide reports and evidences to the Food and Drug Administration to strengthen their claims. This later becomes a basis on which the Food and Drug Administration approves or disapproves their claims. However, in the case of e-cigarettes there are no such reports and the existing reports are either short term or made with biases as they are based on self-reported use of e-cigarettes and it does not provide hard evidence to prove the fact that e-cigarettes can be used to cut down the traditional and old age habit of smoking.
It is thus, impossible to assess the true balance between the benefits and risks of e-cigarettes and it is even important to emphasize on the fact that Food and Drug Administration does not regulate such products which in turn makes the situation more complicated.
WHAT DEFIES LOGIC?
It would not be wrong to say that to prevent acute health diseases mostly among the youth, the government has decided to ban e-cigarettes. But what makes this decision problematic is not the choice of ban but the preferential treatment. The government is directly profiteering from the cigarette trade, along with earning thousands of crores in taxes on cigarettes as it owns 28% of ITC, a leading manufacturer of cigarettes.
‘Tobacco kills every second person who consumes it’ India faces the challenge of rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and they account for more than half of the deaths, which is further exacerbated by the high prevalence of tobacco use in the country.As per the health ministry’s estimates, total economic cost attributable to tobacco use for all diseases in 2011 amounted to Rs 1,04,500 crore, which is equivalent to 1.04 per cent of the GDP.
Thus, common sense tells us that if they were concerned about public health then they should have directly attacked traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products. If the government feels a ban is a plausible solution to India’s alarming tobacco consumption levels, why not attack the root rather than attacking a secondary cause? However, all these questions still remain unanswered.
An outright ban would defeat the purpose of a ban as it would only create a black market which is more harmful in the long term. However, regulation and taxation could be a solution to reduce the consumer base until scientific evidences prove their health risk.