Banning e-cigarettes but not tobacco is contradictory

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Cigarette. (File Photo: IANS)

Even as Gujarat on Wednesday joined an increasing number of states banning e-cigarettes, a country-wide association of importers, distributors, and marketers of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) device have called upon the Union Health Ministry not to rush into a national ban unilaterally without examining the facts and consulting stakeholders.

The association, Trade Representatives of ENDS in India (TRENDS), found it ironical that several states and even the Centre were considering a ban on e-cigarettes while actual tobacco, cigarette and beedi sales was officially open, though these products were proven to be severely injurious to health.

Praveen Rikhy, convener of TRENDS asserted in a memorandum submitted to the Union Health Ministry that, “Asking for a ban on e-cigarettes and not cigarettes or beedis would mean asking for a ban on a less harmful nicotine delivery system while allowing a more harmful one free market availability”.

“This is fundamentally unsustainable as a policy or a public health imperative or even in law and consumer rights. This is also in stark contrast and regressive when compared with the fact that developed economies are regulating ENDS and many see the category as complementary to their tobacco control goals,” she added.

Rikhy went on, “Today, all G7 countries and 34 out of 36 OECD countries have regulated and formalised sale, distribution, marketing and manufacture of ENDS”.

“A ban will end up opening up the black market and create room for substandard unregulated products. It would be of utmost importance to the Health Ministry to not be seen as creating such a market scenario”, she added.

The association on Tuesday evening made a submission to this effect to Secretary of Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with a copy to Union Health Minister Harshvardhan. It said the concerns were based on recent media reports suggesting that the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) was likely to move a proposal to prohibit the manufacture, import, sale and distribution of ENDS, including e-cigarettes, as well as their import under Sections 26A and 10A of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.

The TRENDS stated that these devices were not “drugs” as they are not promoted or intended to be of any therapeutic value. “They do not mitigate or prevent smoking but are an option for a habitual smoker who would like to switch to a non-combustible version.”

ENDS are micro-battery-powered devices, commonly known as e-cigarettes that simulate the sensation of smoking.

According to the association, during “the last few years, these products have emerged as a viable substitute to combustible cigarettes as they do not contain tobacco and do not involve combustion, and consequently, have significantly lower or negligible tobacco residue (commonly ‘tar’), carbon monoxide or other known carcinogens that are present in cigarette smoke.”

Rikhy said: “We believe that strong reasons exist for the government to re-examine its stand vis-à-vis ENDS. We would request the government to objectively consider the benefits and harms related to the product and initiate open consultation, which will help to better inform its decision for the ENDS category”.

“We are also ethically committed not to market our products to minors and pregnant women and are ready to work with the Indian Government to ensure enforcement of legal purchase age and valid label warnings, training and awareness against harmful use.”

Studies conducted by Public Health England, Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Physicians have observed “that vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking and is of negligible risk to bystanders,” she said.

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