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India’s e-cigarette ordinance regressive, will harm millions of smokers, consumer body says

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DELHI:  One of India’s leading consumer advocacy groups has slammed the government following the passing of ordinance prohibiting the manufacture and sales of e-cigarettes in India, stating that it is a black day for 11 crore (approximately 110 million) smokers in India who have been deprived of safer options.

The Association of Vapers India (AVI), an organisation that represents e-cigarette users across the country,  said the ordinance will put lives at risk, adding that the haste shown by the government in enacting a ban indicates it is more concerned about protecting the cigarette industry than improving public health.

AVI said this regressive step has set back by decades initiatives taken by various stakeholders in promoting tobacco harm reduction.

Samrat Chowdhery, AVI director and harm reduction advocate, said: “The government may be patting its back for banning e-cigarettes but this is a draconian move considering the risk to the health of crores of smokers. On one hand we talk about transitioning from a developing to developed nation but on the other we are closing our doors to new technology that has been embraced globally by governments and used by millions worldwide to quit smoking.”

“From the start, the government has not been considerate about public health or public welfare, backing biased scientific evidence which has been rebutted by scientists from across the world for cherry-picking and misinterpreting research to target Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS). What appears to matter more to the government is protecting its 28% stake in the country’s cigarette monopoly ITC. So hellbent was the government on a ban that it also banned any research into ENDS so that the facts about their relative safety to smoking could be subdued.”

Speaking about countermeasures, Chowdhery was adamant: “We will continue to fight for the rights of e-cigarette users and smokers looking to quit or reduce harm to themselves. Apart from exploring legal options, we will also raise the issue at national and international forums. The government has snatched the right of India’s 11 crore people to harm reduction. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

“Our aim is to help solve the country’s tobacco problem that claims 13.5 lakh lives and causes loss of Rs150,000 crore annually. This requires innovative thinking as the current measures are not wholly effective. What we had not accounted for, however, was that we would have to fight our own government to save the lives of our people.”

Bringing an ordinance shows the high-handedness of the government, said Dr Farrukh Khan, senior Delhi HC lawyer, partner at Diwan Advocates and legal head in pro-THR litigation.

“The ordinance is ultra vires to the constitutional framework. This has deprived people of their freedom of choice. The government should have thought about it progressively and in the larger pursuit of public policy on health. Still, we would demand that the government overturn its decision and think with a larger perspective of regulating e-cigarettes,” Dr Farrukh added.

The government acted blindly, that it was too based on biased research and was failed to conduct studies in India, said Kanav Rishi Kumar, a Delhi-based entrepreneur who quit smoking through vaping.

He added: “It is disappointing to see that the government, elected by such a large majority, has now acted against them. The ordinance brought by the government favours the tobacco lobby and disregards people’s freedom to choose an alternative. I think now all the vapers should come forward for their rights and raise a voice against the ordinance.”

The ordinance is based on misconceptions and lacks understanding of the concept of harm reduction, said Dr Bharat Gopal, senior pulmonologist & Director National Chest Centre, New Delhi.

He further stated that Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) is a public health strategy to lower the health risks associated with using nicotine – a strategy used in many countries to help smokers quit with use of non-combustible products. The government has turned a blind eye to the science behind e-cigarettes and denied smokers a less harmful product and a chance to attempt quitting the habit.

Dr Gopal termed the ordinance a diktat that favours a known killer (cigarettes) and abolishes safer forms of nicotine consumption, adding that he recommends high fines on juvenile vaping, coupling it with high fines on those selling ENDS products to minors.

Notably, as many as 3,300 e-cigarette users have already opposed the ordinance as they wrote to the prime minister appealing against an ENDS ban.

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