The Puzzling Ban of E-Cigarettes in India

The Indian government’s own disastrous experience with bans of various substances and services in the past should categorically advise it against such a move in the future. Yet, it is planning to go down the same route again with the case of “e-cigarettes” also known as Electronic Nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). A ban on ENDS, however well-intentioned, will put several former smokers at a greater risk of limiting their access to no-tar alternatives and will end up defeating the larger public health objectives.

In a landmark 200-page report titled “Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction”, the Royal College of Physicians in the UK concludes that e-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking, nor do they result in normalization of smoking. They find that the available evidence indicates that “e-cigarettes are being used almost exclusively as safer alternatives to smoked tobacco, by confirmed smokers who are trying to reduce harm to themselves or others from smoking, or to quit smoking completely”. Importantly, they further categorically find that the long-term harm caused by e-cigarettes is less than 5 percent compared to other tobacco products.

By allowing ENDS to operate in India legally, the government and regulatory bodies can have a lot more control over the product. This includes levying appropriate taxes, issuing public use guidelines, providing information about the product, enforcing a minimum age for sales, and individual product restriction surrounding flavour choices and nicotine concentration in tobacco or e-cigarette products. In fact, regulators could go further to ensure product standardization, labelling requirements to indicate the level of nicotine (something which is not in practice today for normal cigarettes), and technological developments in the field to further reduce the harm caused by the products.
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