The national government of India is planning a complete ban on vaping products. In a country with more than 100 million smokers, this ban could mean death for many.
The Times of India reports that the decision follows an “expert committee’s conclusion that they have cancer-causing properties, are highly addictive, and do not offer a safer alternative to tobacco based smoking products.” The health ministry is able to implement a ban by itself, without any parliamentary approval.
“E-cigarettes are just a mechanism to deliver nicotine in an attractive format. They are being marketed as a harm-reduction product, which is contrary to the truth,” said Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay of the Voluntary Health Association of India. “Youngsters are being lured as it is easily available in different flavours. People should not get lured because e-cigarettes too are harmful.”
The announcement comes just days after the Indian state Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) banned e-cigarettes, becoming the fifth state to do so. As we noted last year, the national government has been mulling a ban for some time, based on the advice of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Samrat Chowdhery, director at the vaping consumer group Association of Vapers India (AVI), told Vaping360 that a ban could come in just a few days, but the fact that it was announced in advance of real action may be a good sign. “The fact that the government put out this information instead of implementing the ban implies there is scope for intervention,” said Chowdhery.
According to the Times of India, the reason the ban hasn’t been implemented already may be that the government is searching for a proper legal framework upon which to declare prohibition. Apparently, the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) doesn’t itself provide a solid legal basis, and the government is concerned about legal challenges.
“COTPA does not have a provision to ban and, therefore, we are faced with the challenge of finding a strong provision. We are convinced about the harmful effects of e-cigarettes but if we do not back it up with a strong provision under the law, then it will fall flat in the courts,” an unnamed official told the Times.
AVI is leading the response from vapers. The group has quickly issued a letter to the Indian health minister, laying out the case for e-cigs as a harm reduction tool, and asking that the health ministry consult with vapers and citizens before making a decision that will impact the health and lives of millions.
Specifically, AVI asks the government to consider four major points:
The first thing Indian vapers should do is join AVI. Informed and politically active vapers can be a powerful force. “We need to put forward a unified response,” Samrat Chowdhery told me.
“We have to sensitize the media, file Right to Information appeals to ascertain what studies have been conducted before taking this decision, and approach concerned public health and government officials with our version, and finally, take the legal recourse.”
AVI has already begun legal action in the state of Karnataka, which banned sales of vapor products last year. The vaping association will file public interest litigation (PIL) there soon, challenging the state ban on multiple grounds. Similar action could be taken against the national government.
Chowdhery also hopes for support from vapers, and harm reduction and human rights activists around the world. “Help and pressure from the international community will also go a long way,” he said.