In 2018, India became the second-largest consumer of tobacco in the world, with over 1.35 million people dying of tobacco-related illness each year. One of the most common types of cancer in India, lung cancer accounts for 5.9 per cent of all new cancer cases diagnosed in the country. Tobacco consumption is a major contributory factor in nearly 95 per cent of lung cancer cases and causes other serious health complications. Smoking is a major reason for cancer-related deaths in India. At a time like this, we are missing the focus on India’s biggest problem, which is tobacco.
If you look at it from a public health gain standpoint, restricting access to a viable alternative like e-cigarettes to people who already have full access to far more harmful conventional cigarettes, the argument is futile. Here are some people who have shared their experience with the Deccan Chronicle.
For 35-year-old Rahul Bhasin, smoking conventional cigarettes became a habit when he was 28. After countless failed efforts at reducing the intake, he decided to try an e-cigarette, a handheld battery-powered vaporizer that simulates smoking. Four years after making the switch, as the government plans to put a blanket ban on the product, Rahul has a question for the government— why should we ban the only alternative to traditional smoking? He is not the only voice. As e-cigarettes become the centre of policy debates, consumers share their side of the story on the subject.
Banning e-cigarettes is no solution, considering the grey market and the huge health burden of tobacco in India. “Why is the government not considering banning cigarettes which is the bigger evil? Tobacco is costing India many lives each year and we have not been able to address that with just warnings on cigarette packs! E-cigarettes are available in other countries and why is India considering banning a category that has been able to help several smokers across the world! Let's be realistic bans don't work in India- they will create a black market where spurious and unsafe products will be sold”, shares Prateek Sinha, an IT professional.
Amidst the brewing arguments raised for and against the product, many consumers feel that misinformation about the product could potentially drive more adults toward smoking combustible cigarettes. “I have been a heavy smoker for several years and have made endless efforts to quit smoking but always failed. I tried e-cigarettes in the UK last year and have been able to quit smoking ever since and know friends who have benefited from it. It is highly unfair, discriminatory and premature to ban e-cigarettes when gutkha, beedi, cigarettes are readily available at every nook and corner in the country. Banning e-cigarettes is taking away my right as a consumer to choose less harmful alternatives that are available" Kanchan Gupta, an independent HR professional.
Technically, e-cigarettes are considered to be a viable choice than smoking regular cigarettes because they don’t contain tobacco or the many other harmful chemicals they come with. Are they less harmful? There have been varying opinions by experts on this question, but does it help smokers make the switch to a more viable alternative? Definitely, yes. "From the days of smoking 15 cigarettes a day to vaping only a few times a week, my smoking habits have changed drastically. They have been far more effective than NRT's and have helped me in changing my dependency on cigarettes. I would urge the Indian government to do a fair evaluation of e-cigarettes before making any decisions to ban them in India", Arsh Chawla, Charted Accountant
For others, the ban is futile in the absence of control over tobacco. Banning e-cigarettes to control people from smoking will never be successful for the simple reason that there’s no tobacco in these products. A viable alternative is at stake, but unregulated bidis and cigarettes are still available within 100 yards of schools and colleges.
In nearly 95 per cent of lung cancer cases and other serious health complications in India, tobacco consumption is a major contributory factor. Hence, to tackle the menace caused by tobacco, the government should ban cigarettes instead of its alternatives. To reduce the harm caused by consuming tobacco, various progressive nations such as the UK, New Zealand, Norway, and Canada are offering lesser harmful alternatives to smoking. 98 countries have developed appropriate regulations for optimising the positive impact of e-cigarettes. Perhaps, it’s time for India to take lessons from its international counterparts.