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Over 3,000 vapers petition PM to legalise e-cigarettes

Thursday, May 16, 2019
By Philip Varghese

The central government in recent months has taken up cudgels against ENDS, seeking to ban its use through an advisory issued in August last year

Amidst rising controversy over e-cigarettes, more than 3,000 users of these devices have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to legalise Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS). Their health has improved significantly after switching from smoking, their petition states.

“I am 51 and have successfully quit a 20-year habit of over 40 cigarettes a day with the help of vaping (as the use of e-cigarettes is known). I have regained stamina, heart condition is better, there is no smoker’s cough and my family is not being put at risk. There are thousands like me whose lives have been positively impacted. Smoking is among the toughest habits to give up, with almost every smoker trying to quit but failing. In this scenario, smokers need more options to wean away from deadly cigarettes and ENDS are now the most effective means of doing so,” said Jagannath Sarangapani, a professional from Hyderabad who initiated the petition to counter the misinformation surrounding this smoking replacement option. “A ban will force me back into smoking,” he added.

The central government in recent months has taken up cudgels against ENDS, seeking to ban its use through an advisory issued in August last year. The advisory was subsequently challenged in Delhi High Court which ruled it to be non-binding on states and government bodies. This, however, did not prevent some states and government departments from relying on the advisory to impose restrictions.

Prof 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, our study indicates that ENDS pose minimal health and safety concerns when compared to conventional cigarettes. Our study establishes that new generation ENDS may serve as an efficient means of meeting the nicotine demand of a person addicted to smoking, without the grave health consequences of 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 yearlong 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, cardio-metabolic physician at Jaslok Hospital, 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.” In April, over 80 senior doctors from AIIMS, Fortis, Apollo and other cancer institutes released a consensus statement on the harm reduction potential of e-cigarettes and recommended their use in cessation therapy for smokers who are finding it difficult to quit.

The government action against e-cigarettes has also faced resistance from NGOs and the judiciary. 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, Internet Freedom Foundation, FICCI and COAI, opposed the amendment stating the ban would be arbitrary, unjustified and in violation of constitutional laws.

How is India reacting to this?
Two notices by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) and the Customs department that banned ENDS were stayed by Delhi High Court in March, with Justice Vibhu Bhakru also noting in his order that a ban affects the rights of choice of consumers to switch to a less harmful product.

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 our country’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. The government should put the lives of people before industry profits.”

He added, “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.” 

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