New Delhi, September 2018 – Activists and academicians have expressed concern on the advisory issued by the Union Government to all state governments on banning of e-cigarettes without any evidence to substantiate the decision. Globally, 55 countries, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Norway and Canada, among others, have legalized sale of nicotine e-cigarettes and e-liquids as consumer goods. These nations view vaping (inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette) as a much safer harm reduction alternative to smoking.
Deepak Mukarji of The Alternatives, which advocates harm reduction said, “Vaping involves no smoke. It takes nicotine, which occurs naturally in vegetables like tomato, potato and brocolli, warms it to a vapor for use, eliminating smoke through burning tobacco. An innovation that must be encouraged as a harm reduction alternative to tobacco usage. Yet sadly, misguidance and misrepresentation of facts is leading to the increased banning of a product that could save lives.”
Although e-cigarettes too contain nicotine like tobacco cigarettes, they do not produce tar and toxic chemicals that cause most tobacco-related deaths across the world.
Professor N Sharan, a senior professor in the department of biochemistry at the North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong, who has been researching on cancer and its causes for many years now, said, “In e-cigarettes, there is huge reduction of cancer causing elements to the tune of 90-92 per cent. The government should make a policy to give an option to the smokers to switch to e-cigarettes in its fight against cancer.”
An expert independent evidence review published by Public Health England (PHE) have shown that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful compared to combustible cigarettes and help in quitting smoking. Other studies from very credible institutes – the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), London, Public Health England, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering Medicine (US), American Cancer Society, etc. – have come to the same conclusion on the relative safety of Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).
The Annual Review of Public Health in the United Kingdom which focuses on harm minimization and smoking cessation, with alternative nicotine products says e-cigarettes are emerging as a promising avenue for people who want to quit smoking. Compared to vaping, smoking is much more harmful and prematurely kills over half of lifetime smokers. Researchers found that smokers who switched to e-cigarettes showed significant health improvements, including improvement in asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, lung function and pneumonia risk.
According to the study, about 60% of current adult smokers in Great Britain have tried electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), and 18% are current e-cigarette users. Over 40% of smokers who try to quit do so with the aid of e-cigarettes. These findings are also supported by a report from the Royal College of Physicians, in which it was stated that “the hazard to health arising from long-term vapour inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco.
Samrat Chowdhery, Director, The Association of Vapers India (AVI) said, “In tobacco use, the lives of users can be positively impacted with harm-reduced alternatives. The government has so far relied on an emotional appeal to persuade tobacco users to kick the habit, but never offered an alternative beyond gums and patches, which have a very low success rate. An attempt to ban e-cigarettes is regressive given that the government’s stated policy is to provide wider choices to consumers for all products and services, and not restrict them.
The Centre’s advisory claims the move is to prevent the youth from getting hooked to e-cigarettes. But without acting against tobacco itself, the government seems to have missed the wood for the trees. E-cigarettes are a relatively new product, and learning how to regulate them is important to those institutions that focus on public health. Regulation will be more useful than an outright ban.