August 29, 2018

India Tells Its States to Ban Vapes

The central government of India is advising state governments to ban vapes, based on questionable scientific reasoning. And because the national government has jurisdiction over imported products, the move may be a de facto ban on products coming from outside the country.

The “Advisory on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems” was sent Tuesday by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare to the health departments of all 29 states. It was signed by health undersecretary T. Chinsum Naula.

The advisory lists many of the most dubious current scientific claims, including that vaping is a gateway to smoking for teenagers, that vapor contains dangerous levels of metals, that secondhand vapor is hazardous to bystanders, and that adolescent nicotine use “may have long-term consequences for brain development.” The ministry also claims that any evidence vaping has value as a smoking cessation product is “scant and of low certainty.”

The advisory concludes that “it is evident that Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems…are a great health risk to public at large, especially to children, adolescents, pregnant women and women of reproductive age. It is also evident that ENDS are not approved as NRTs under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Rules made thereunder.

“As such, the States/Union Territories are advised, in larger public health interest and in order to prevent the initiation of ENDS by non-smokers and youth with special attention to vulnerable groups, to ensure that any Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems…are not sold (including online sale), manufactured, distributed, traded, imported and advertised in their jurisdictions, except for the purpose & in the manner and to the extent, as may be approved under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules made thereunder.”

More than twice as many Indians die yearly from tobacco-related diseases as Americans.

According to Samrat Chowdhery, director of the consumer advocacy group Association of Vapers India (AVI), the advisory doesn’t carry the force of law, but it shows the intent of the government. And the states will feel tremendous pressure to act quickly.

Chowdhery and AVI have been fighting bans and restrictions in India for two years. Six Indian states have banned vapor products, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has “encouraged” governments to impose draconian restrictions or even complete prohibition.

“We had hoped the clear evidence emerging on the relative safety of e-cigarettes since the recommendation by the advisory panels three years ago — including a change in WHO’s stance from a push for bans to regulation — would have a positive impact on the Indian government’s decision-making,” Chowdhery told Vaping360 in an email yesterday.

“It is frustrating to see that the government has refused to look at the available evidence and instead acted based on misinformation and fear,” said Chowdhery.

The Indian government owns nearly a third of the largest tobacco company in the country, and India has more than three times as many smokers as the United States, Chowdhery wrote in a Vaping360 editorial published last January. More than twice as many Indians die yearly from tobacco-related diseases as Americans. Banning low-risk nicotine products won’t help the situation.

“If there is a country that badly needs tobacco harm reduction it is India,” Samrat Chowdhery said yesterday. “India has 120 million smokers, low desire to quit, lack of public healthcare, and over a million lives lost every year. This decision to ban safer alternatives will lead to many more deaths. And they’re deaths that can be prevented. This is quite painful.”

Chowdhery said that AVI will challenge the government with a lawsuit, a tactic the advocacy group has used before. And he vows to never give up. “We will keep up the fight,” he said, “starting with challenging this advisory in court, and if needed expanding legal action to states that choose to act on it.”

Update: after this article went to press, AVI issued a strong statement of opposition to the central government's position, and a point-by-point refutation of the scientific claims in the government advisory.

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