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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS–India’s vape ban only deprives smokers of safer options

The Editorial covers GS paper 2 [Health & Education]

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Introduction

  • The world has embraced electronic cigarettes, commonly known as vapes, and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) as harm-reduction alternatives to combustible tobacco used in cigarettes. 
  • Globally, several tobacco control researchers have concluded that e-cigarettes are at least 95% less hazardous than combustible cigarettes. 
  • Studies by Public Health England show that the risk of passive smoking associated with them is also extremely low, as they do not produce tobacco fumes. 

What is India’s status with tobacco?

  • The country bears 12% of the global burden of tobacco users, has 40% of its adults exposed to passive smoking.
  • We have shown the lowest quit rate among all countries surveyed in the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2. 
  • Since there is empirical evidence to suggest that countries, which have regulated ENDS, have witnessed a decline in smoking rates, India needs to take note and reconsider its stance on the matter. 

What are the Global experiences?

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  • According to a study conducted by The British Medical Journal, as many as 68 countries, including the UK, US, Canada, France, and Japan, are using a range of regulatory mechanisms to enhance the discretionary power of their adult citizens. 
  • These include laws that prohibit sales of ENDS to minors, regulate advertising and promotion, impose limits on nicotine concentration, and place checks on product quality and battery standards. 
  • The UK and France have witnessed a decline in their smoking rates, with the UK marking the lowest at 14.9% in 2017, in comparison to 19.8% in 2011, and a record 1.6 million people in France having moved away from combustible cigarettes over the past two years. 
  • Sweden has achieved the lowest rates of smoking-caused illnesses in Europe, mostly due to a low-risk form of smokeless tobacco called snus. 
  • Japan has reduced cigarette sales by a third in just three years through product substitution. 
  • New Zealand is promoting ENDS by launching a website called Vaping Facts to clarify myths and make the country smoking-free by 2025.
  • Canada, the UAE, and Seychelles have reversed their bans to regulate the product and allow access to adult smokers. 

What are the regulations to ban?

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  • Country-wise e-cigarette policies differ and the outcomes of their experience so far could inform a regulatory system in India.
  • These countries have regulatory mechanisms to monitor the manufacture, sale, labeling, and promotion of ENDS products to enable people to switch and deter unintended consequences. 
  • Canada has created a separate provision for vaping products under its existing tobacco control regulations to ensure that the category of modern products is regulated but these are more accessible than old tobacco products.
  • The World Health Organization and the EU have acted in favor of a regulatory framework instead of a blanket ban. 
  • They have provided detailed policy suggestions for countries to restrict producing, marketing, selling and using e-cigarettes. 

What is the way forward?

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  • With a smoking population at over 100 million, India is not only a lucrative market for e-cigarette players, but also has more to gain from a public health standpoint if ENDS are permitted.
  • A large chunk of India’s healthcare expenditure goes into the treatment and management of preventable diseases, including tobacco-related illnesses. India will not only gain economically but also find better solutions to combat the voluntary inhalation of harmful substances.
  • India needs to think of vaping as part of a solution and learn from the empirical evidence being provided by various countries.
  • The crisis of addiction has not been responsive to various measures adopted over the decades. 
  • India is currently the second-largest tobacco consumer in the world.

Conclusion

  • A ban on a widely accepted alternative to smoking regular cigarettes not only prevents consumers from making a less harmful choice, but it may also result in an illicit trade turning rampant. 
  • We need to check the entry of dangerous counterfeits and deny vulnerable groups access to these products via the black market.

Source: Live Mint.