Over 3,000 vapers petition to PM to legalise e-cigarettesPTI | New Delhi | Updated: 15-05-2019 22:29 IST | Created: 15-05-2019 19:35 IST
Over 3,000 users of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), including e-cigarettes, have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urged him to legalise these devices in the country, saying they are safer alternatives to conventional cigarettes. The move comes amid a raging debate over the harm reduction aspects of ENDS with the government seeking to ban them stating they pose health risks to users, that are similar to those of traditional cigarettes, amid claims by some organisations that they help in smoking cessation and are less harmful alternatives to traditional cigarettes.
The health ministry, however, argues there is no considerable evidence to establish these theories. ENDS are devices that heat a solution to create an aerosol, which also frequently contains flavours, usually dissolved into propylene glycol and glycerin. Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes are devices that do not burn or use tobacco leaves but instead vaporise a solution, which a user then inhales.
In their petition to the PM, the users claimed their health has improved significantly after they switched to vaping from smoking conventional cigarettes. "I am 51 and have successfully quit a 20-year habit of smoking over 40 cigarettes a day with the help of vaping, also known as e-cigarettes. I have regained stamina, my heart condition is better and there is no smoker's cough. There are thousands like me whose lives have been positively impacted," said Jagannath Sarangapani, a professional from Hyderabad.
Sarangapani, who initiated the petition to counter the misinformation surrounding ENDS, said smoking is among the toughest habits to give up and stressed they need more options to wean away from deadly cigarettes and ENDS are now the most effective means to do so. "A ban will force me back into smoking," he added.
In August last year, the Union Health Ministry issued an advisory to all states and UTs to stop manufacture, sale and import of ENDS. The advisory was subsequently challenged in Delhi High Court which ruled it to be non-binding on states and government bodies.
However, some states in India — including Punjab, Karnataka, Kerala, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Mizoram — have already banned use and sale of e-cigarettes, Vape and E-Hookah. Professor Rajesh Sharan from North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong, who recently published a meta-analysis of 229 studies on ENDS, said within the limits of available information, their study indicates these devices pose minimal health and safety concerns when compared to conventional cigarettes.
"Rational policies are required to extend the benefits of ENDS to smokers, while preventing their misuse, especially by adolescents and non-smokers." A major year-long clinical trial into e-cigarette use published in peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine in January found that ENDS are twice as effective as traditional nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) such as gums and patches in helping smokers quit.
According to market research agency Euromonitor, over 40 million smokers across the world have switched to ENDS in less than a decade. Dr Rohan Sequeira, the cardio-metabolic physician at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai, said authorities should understand vaping is much less harmful than smoking. A number of countries have done research and found the toxicological profile to contain significantly lower harmful substances than in cigarette smoke.
"The so-called dangers of ENDS are grossly exaggerated and misrepresented. E-cigarettes should be embraced as another effective NRT and should be legalised and regulated instead of imposing a ban," Sequeria said. Harm reduction advocate and director of Association of Vapers India Samrat Chowdhery said the Indian government is pushing for a ban on vaping while the world's 65 most advanced nations such as the US, 28 EU countries including the UK, along with Canada and New Zealand have embraced e-cigarettes.
A ban will deprive India's 12 crore smokers of an effective means to reduce tobacco harm while ensuring continued revenue for the tobacco industry by killing off competition to cigarettes that cause nearly 10 lakh annual deaths in India, he said. "The government should put the lives of people before industry profits," Chowdhery said.
"Teen uptake is a problem across risk behaviours, from alcohol use to underage driving, and most significantly with smoking as nine out of 10 current smokers began when they were minors. This issue needs to be tackled through sound regulation, but it should not be as an excuse to deny millions of citizens a pathway to avoid tobacco-related mortality and morbidity," he stated. The government action against e-cigarettes has also faced resistance from some NGOs. The Information Technology Ministry in January proposed to ban information related to ENDS on online platforms. Over 30 civil society and industry organisations, including Amnesty and FICCI, opposed the amendment stating the ban would be arbitrary, unjustified and in violation of constitutional laws.
On the other hand, a group of doctors, students and civil society organisations recently urged the prime minister to enforce a ban on ENDS before it becomes an "epidemic in India", especially among the youth. A sub-committee group constituted by the ministry, on health effects of ENDS, considered 251 studies/reports and concluded that there is evidence to prove that ENDS and its variants, are harmful to users.