In a recent article in Scroll.in (Four fake narratives the tobacco lobby is floating to undermine India’s e-cigarette ban), Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi and Dr PC Gupta welcomed the government’s recent decision to ban on e-cigarettes, claiming that it poses a grave danger to youth, to society and mankind as a whole. In the zealousness to support this move, the writers emphasize the morality of the issue, forgetting the mortality issue.
95% less harmful
Public Health England is the policy-making guide for the National Health Service of Britain, one of the world’s largest government-run health systems and has deemed that vaping is 95% safer than smoking traditional cigarettes. The scientific assessment of e-cigarettes was initiated by Public Health England in 2015, and since then has undertaken two further assessments in 2018 and 2019. In these assessments, Public Health England has maintained that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking.
The PHE report is an evidentiary review of over 400 peer-reviewed articles on the subject of vaping. The same report has been endorsed by leading institutions like Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Physicians, who conducted their own independent assessments to arrive at similar findings. The PHE report was also endorsed by the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which affirmed after detailed hearings that vaping is “substantially less harmful” – limited to only 5% of the harm caused by conventional cigarettes.
Critics have failed to present any scientific findings to rebut the assessment of the PHE. The scientific and medical community in India has not produced any single primary research or study or even a survey before making pronouncements to ban an entire category.
It is disingenuous of medical practitioners to that e-cigarettes have a small consumer base than tobacco products and so a ban will most probably prove to be highly effective. Is this a cogent argument: ban something that is easy to ban because of small numbers involved, even if it may be less harmful and a substitute to something that is way more harmful but maybe more difficult to ban? Nowhere have they been able to prove that e-cigarettes are as or more harmful than cigarettes and bidis, making the entire premise of this argument hollow.
India has amongst the lowest smoking quit rates. On the other hand, countries where e-cigarettes have seen growth in popularity, cigarette consumption are witnessing historic decline.
It is confusing that evangelists portray themselves as anti-tobacco crusaders are so concerned about the economic harm it would cause to the people who engage in this activity – the farmers, processors, marketers – promoting this deadly habit that they are willing to justify a ban on a proven lesser evil while they are willing to let the medical harm to millions of people go unnoticed.
Doctors who claim e-cigarettes should be banned, are faced with the conundrum they created in the first place. They claim that the cigarette and e-cigarette industries are essentially the same and cannot be trusted. Thus, do they suggest that only e-cigarettes should be banned? Why should two products or industries be treated differently even if they are, according to the authors, similar.
Groups that are lobbying for a ban on e-cigarettes have argued that there is no evidence to prove that Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems or ENDS is actually an effective cessation tool. Behaviorally, speaking, ENDS products have proven to give the same nicotine hit and mimic the behavioral aspects related to cigarette smoking (being a pleasurable activity) required to assist smokers in quitting. Hence, they are a successful alternative to combustible cigarettes. They are treated as a consumer product in almost all the countries that have regulated their sale.
Praveen Rikhy is the Convenor of TRENDS, the industry trade association for Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems in India.