The e-cigarette ban may stem the spread of vaping as an epidemic among youth, the group most vulnerable to addictive substances. E-cigarettes come in handy sizes that are easy to hide, enabling students to cheat parents and teachers. As a stand-alone measure to address a problem, India’s ban must be lauded. But far more harmful substances like tobacco and gutka are still freely available. Users may have been told these substances are carcinogenic, but awareness is one thing, availability quite another. Big Tobacco, like Big Pharma, lives by its own rules. The tobacco lobby can steamroll past obstacles to keep the multi-billion dollar trade intact, despite restrictive curbs like graphic pictorial warnings and brand-less packaging.
The revenue the tobacco industry generates far outstrips the “sin taxes” imposed by governments. E-cigarettes are just another, if sophisticated, form of marketing addictive nicotine, for which users were used to burning paper, leaf and tar in cigarettes and bidis, considered more harmful than the alkaloid. “Cancer cures smoking” was a catchy slogan to dissuade smokers, of whom countless millions died from cancer or lung illnesses. But no government in the world has been able to rein in tobacco farmers or manufacturers. Indians are exposed to the greater hazards of gutka and pan masala. Even in a state like Tamil Nadu, where gutka was banned, a corruption scandal involving thousands of crores was exposed, but that didn’t stop it from reaching users/abusers. Narcotics may predate tobacco as the original destroyers of the human body and soul, but tobacco has had an extended run and opioids are challenging them for destructive space. Banning e-cigarettes is just a fig leaf — of acting for the public good over substances that kill.