The World Health Organization Global TB report 2016, states that India accounts to a whopping number of 2.8 million of the total 10.3 million new TB cases globally. Moreover, research also states that deaths caused by oral cancer in India, cross over 10 lakh annually. These numbers are alarming, India, is at the brink of a health care crisis while under nutrition could be the major cause for the TB endemic, the increase in the consumption of tobacco cannot be ignored. With every passing budget the Finance Minister announces a hike in the excise duty of tobacco and related products. In 2017, pan masala products, containing tobacco or gutkha the excise duty had increased to 12 percent from 10 percent while for other unmanufactured tobacco it raised to 8.3 percent from 4.2 percent earlier. The excise duty on non-filter cigarettes of length not exceeding 65 mm had been raised to Rs 311 per thousand from Rs 215. In 2016, the government had increased the excise and customs duties on cigarettes by 9 per cent. This year tobacco and related products were placed in the highest GST bracket of 28 percent plus a 5 percent cess on tobacco and related products. Apart from this, in the past few months there has also been a debate on the packaging warnings that are issued on the cigarette packs.
But the real question here is, do these measures have a substantial impact on the sale and consumption of tobacco or related products? Tobacco consumption has emerged as a major health problem in India, along with diabetes and cardiac diseases. The high amount of nicotine and chemicals in traditional cigarettes are addictive and makes it almost impossible for one to quit. The need of the hour is to look at an alternative that will help addicts wean off the habit and eventually quit smoking. Vaping, should be considered as an alternative in this endeavor.
In a recent step against cancer-causing substances, Tobacco Control Division of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has circulated a notice to withdraw the amendments of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), Bill 2015 from the public domain for modification. The new expected modified amendments will include action against promoting E-cigarettes / Vaping devices. “The government and ministry should look at vaping with a holistic approach and not jump to conclusions without proper research. We believe that regulation of ENDS will provide 120 million smokers access to technology that can create the difference between life and death for them. A blanket ban is not a solution, but a violation of fundamental right to choose better and safer alternatives over smoking,” said Nilesh Jain, founder, ivape.in.
Vaping is considered as a harm reduction tool, according to experts. Vaping is an act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic device—a battery-operated device which vaporizes a flavored liquid made of propylene glycol, glycerin and flavorings. In the month of November ivape.in launched a campaign #nosmokenovember and received several testimonials from customers who shared their experience and spoke about the change that they experienced as they shifted from smoking cigarettes to vaping. The also participated in a health and wellness expo. This was the first time a vaping brand was a part of such an event where even doctors, nutritionists and fitness enthusiasts were curious to know about the benefits of vaping. “We believe that the awareness about vaping in India is bare minimum and banning it will only escalate the problems that the government is already facing. The products will be sold illegally and the product quality can also be compromised. Currently all the products we are selling are ISO certified,” added Jain.
If we look at the US, the FDA policy is working on shifting the focus from tobacco to nicotine and working towards a far-reaching impact on public health. Evidence demonstrates that alternative products designed to reduce harm have a place in helping people’s health outcomes immediately. Clearly, more research needs to be done to validate harm reduction especially in India, which has a huge tobacco burden and where access to public healthcare is minimal at best. Making the role of preventive measures is even more critical. Indian regulators and the health ministry must also take a step towards new policies and encourage harm reduction alternatives, the public health benefits can be unprecedented.