by The Welthi Bureau, September 18th, 2020
New Delhi, Sep 18, 2020: Marking the anniversary of India’s vape ban as ‘black day’, the Association of Vapers India (AVI) which leads tobacco harm reduction efforts in the country held nationwide protests where vapers from India as well as from other countries came together in protests held in many cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
An online protest rally was also organised where ex-smokers, vapers and their family members, along with global health, legal and advocacy experts expressed anger over the arbitrary ban imposed by the government last September.
The protestors raised placards citing the impact of the ban on their lives and urged the government to hold a discussion with all stakeholders including consumers, and allow research on vaping products to better understand their harm reduction potential.
Highlighting 10 key reasons why the vape ban has failed in India, the consumer body wrote letters to Members of Parliament urging their intervention as the policy adversely impacts 11 crore Indians who smoke and have few means to quit or reduce harm. The detailed letter also highlights that many vapers are being forced back to smoking, while a black market mushrooms.
AVI director Samrat Chowdhery said, “A year in, the folly of the vape ban is coming into sharp relief. The goal of protecting youth is anything but met as e-cigarettes are still available in the black market, putting them at greater risk as now there are no checks and balances to prevent teen access, which sensible regulation could have achieved. Bans have also not worked in other comparable nations such Mexico, Thailand and Brazil, so India’s failure comes as no surprise.”
“In these lean economic times, the misstep of banning e-cigarettes is becoming ever more apparent. The nascent vape industry in India was making a difference by helping India quit deadly smoking, while creating revenue, which also had the upstream benefit of creating an alternative source of revenue for India’s tobacco farmers. Now, while China’s $5 billion vape industry is booming, we have destroyed an entire economic sector.”
Dr Vikas Jain, a pediatrician from Indore, termed the ban illogical. “Banning a safer alternative to smoking is like banning masks during Covid pandemic because they hamper breathing. It is absurd that in our country while cigarettes are regulated, vapes are banned. It’s time the government corrected its stand.”
The protest also saw the participation of global voices. David Sweanor, emeritus professor, University of Ottawa, said, “I am concerned about the approach India has now taken on banning the least hazardous products. Bans generally do not work. People find ways around it. Markets find ways around it. But the idea of banning the very low risk product while leaving widely available the really lethal product is just bad policy. It's not empowering people.”
Prof Gerry Smitson from Imperial College London said, “First important fact is the smoke that kills, not the nicotine. Second, safer nicotine products such as e-cigarettes are many times safer than smoking. Third, evidence from many countries shows smokers rapidly switch away from smoking when safer nicotine products are available, are affordable, appropriate and acceptable for fact. Countries that have embraced or accepted e-cigarettes and other alternatives are seeing smoking fast disappearing.”
Kamal Mordani, a businessman and a vaper from Kolkata said a lot of smokers were using vaping as a cessation tool. He said, “It is going to be 12 months since the vape ban kicked in under the garb of child welfare, but the law has taken away my freedom to choose an alternative to which is not just proven scientifically to be less harmful than smoking, but also on account of my personal experience of health improvement compared to when I was smoking.”
AVI said it will continue efforts to oppose the e-cigarette ban and sensitise lawmakers and the public to the missed opportunity in making less harmful alternatives available to combat India’s growing tobacco crisis.
Attending the online protest rally from Bengaluru, AVI legal counsel Pingal Khan said, “The e-cigarette ban is a curious case of the state turning a blind eye to the health and welfare of a significant minority (smokers) by ensuring they have no alternate harm reduction options, which is akin to condemning them to death. This lazy policy approach has created a legal framework which flies in the face of the constitutional mandate, and the protected fundamental right to life with human dignity guaranteed to every person in India by its Constitution.”
Angeles Muntadas who leads consumer advocacy efforts in Spain said, “With as many as 120 million people who smoke in India, it is criminal to ban a product that would help these people switch to a far less risky way of nicotine consumption. Any government that attempts a ban on vaping products is playing with fire. Such bans only enrich existing and future black markets and disturb those consumers who wish to live within the bounds of the law.”
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