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E-Cigarette: Here’s Its Journey From The Cradle To The (Proposed) Grave!: Rupal Jaiswal

E-cigarettes, also called Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), are battery-powered systems that heat nicotine to emit vapours which are inhaled by the smoker. These are considered less harmful than regular cigarettes as they do not contain tobacco and hence, do not produce tar (which is responsible for most tobacco-related deaths). Hand to mouth action of an e-cigarette stimulates smoking sensation. Thus, the ENDS are used as an alternative to conventional cigarettes and help addicts to quit smoking.

Recently, many concerns have been raised about the adverse impact of e-cigarette on human health. More so, the efficacy of e-cigarettes in aiding ‘quitting’ has been challenged. In India, almost 12 states including Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have banned the sale of e-cigarettes after the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued an advisory in August 2018, urging the states to prevent initiation of ENDS by non-smokers and youth. This ban is not unprecedented as even the Food and Drug Administration in the US has refused to approve e-cigarettes as a smoking aid and about 9 US states have already banned it.

E-cigarettes contain nicotine which is an addictive substance; those who use it in the hope of quitting tobacco are, thus, likely to get addicted to e-cigarettes. The liquid also contains flavouring agents along with other toxic chemicals such as dicetyl, which are known to affect lungs and even cause lung or bladder cancer. A study published by the Indian Journal of Medical Research points out that there is a high risk of the youth switching to regular cigarettes after being exposed to e-cigarettes. In the 6th Global Forum on Nicotine held in June 2019, the doctors held varied opinions on the ban on e-cigarettes. Some claimed that tobacco consumption is a public health emergency and any product which offers a safer alternative including e-cigarettes must be encouraged. Others pointed out that nicotine in any form is a poison and must be strictly regulated.

Introduced in 2010 in India, e-cigarettes have been misconstrued by the public as a ‘smoking cessation product’ when it only helps in reducing the harmful effects of smoking. Youth are targeted by the e-cigarette companies to earn more profits. Some scholars believe that the very concept of e-cigarettes was evolved by the capitalists as a safety valve in case regular cigarettes are banned by the government. However, the Central government is now contemplating a nation-wide ban on e-cigarettes by including it under the definition of ‘drug’ under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.

While the debate still rages, one glaring issue remains: why is the government banning e-cigarettes while regular cigarettes are still allowed subject to regulation? Revenue earned from ‘sin tax’ on cigarettes can be one of reasons behind these double standards. Regular cigarettes are more harmful than or at least as harmful as ENDS. If the menace of tobacco addiction is to be cured, the government must adopt a holistic approach. Regulation, not prohibition, is the answer to widespread consumption of e-cigarettes. Such regulation may include access to e-cigarettes only when medically prescribed; this will prevent non-smokers from accessing e-cigarettes. Besides, the government can impose high taxes on e-cigarettes and use the revenue earned for the purpose of creating awareness about the harmful effects of these devices.