India’s e-cigarettes ban is facing backlash from the pro-vaping groups who are calling it mindless, arbitrary and excessive, but when talking about the factors behind the decision, there’s more than what meets the eye.
After numerous reports that e-cigarettes were not the healthier alternative to smoking, India decided to enforce a ban on vaping in the country. So, through an ordinance, the sale, production, manufacturing, export/import, storage and advertising of e-cigarettes is banned in India.
While India followed the footsteps of other nations like US, Singapore, Australia, Argentina, Thailand, Taiwan, UAE, and Brazil, several questions have arisen on what the bans have accomplished and moreover, what were the actual influencing factors that culminated in the ban.
Are e-cigarettes more harmful than Tobacco?
According to experts, vaping does not contain the 7000 chemicals found in the tobacco. However, it contains many substances that are increasing risks of epidemic diseases among users. According to a report by the Washington Post, the symptoms discovered out of vaping include nausea, weight loss, diarrhoea, vomiting, fatigue, and severe lung disease even lead to lung collapse.
As per WHO claims, the nicotine used in e-cigarettes have an organic compound called propylene glycol sometime with or without glycerol and flavouring agents, but these solutions also contain toxicants.
Moreover, it can adversely affect a woman during pregnancy and may cause cardiovascular disease.
Furthermore, WHO added, the power of an e-cigarette defines the conventionality of the nicotine present. If nicotine delivery is powerful and quick, then it is not less than traditional cigarettes.
However, as per the Washington Post, the culture of e-cigarettes in the US is more than a decade, but related diseases or illness have been reported only this year. Although, some governments find vaping a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. Similarly, Public Health England (UK) says it is not as dangerous as tobacco, claiming it is 95% safer.
The Association of Vapers India, on the other side, alleged the government’s move indicates it is more concern about protecting the cigarette industry than improving public health. Furthermore, now India is facing its first legal challenge to the ban. The ban on electronic cigarettes was challenged in a Kolkata court.
As per a Reuters report, there are two separate legal battles on the way from e-cigarette importer Plume Vapour and another company named Woke Vapors. Moreover, as per a senior health ministry official, the government is aware of the cases.
The government’s argument is that the ban is essential to protect people. It also opines that vaping is leading youngsters to nicotine addiction and towards consuming tobacco.
On the contrary, pro-vaping groups opine that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking tobacco. As per the groups, the ban will deprive millions of smokers the safer alternative to leaving the smoking habit. Similarly, as per prominent lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is representing Plume Vapour, “This (ban) raises several important questions of constitutional law and is mindless, arbitrary and excessive.”
E-Cigarettes Ban in India explained
While addressing a recent press conference, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that e-cigarettes were promoted to get the people out of their smoking habits. However, recent reports have shown its epidemic effects on the human body, which have proved fatal in some cases.
The ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) applauded the step. It cited that the study of food and drug administration (FDA) of the US had found that the nicotine used in the e-cigarette is leading to an increase in the smoking habits among teens.
Furthermore, it also noted that the use of ENDS (Electronic nicotine delivery systems) adversely affects human health including DNA damage, carcinogenic, cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity. Consequently. more risks include respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological disorders, and impacts fetal development and pregnancy.
However, the report also says there are over 400 brands of e-cigarettes in India and surprisingly none of them is manufactured in the Indian Territory. Around more than 150 different flavours of nicotine are also available in the market.
This brings out another angle to why the may have been banned in a country that certainly doesn’t put a similar emphasis on tobacco or the traditional cigarettes.
Whether the ban was to appease the US?
Ajay Maken, the Congress spokesperson, said that they welcome the ban on electronic cigarettes but questioned the government on not banning the traditional tobacco cigarettes and pan masala.
He further added that this particular step had been taken to appease the US President Donald Trump as a few days back President said that e-cigarettes should be banned. Furthermore, he said, if this step could have taken before the Trump comments, then they could not have alleged the government.
However, this step is not for appeasing the US as many initiatives were already taken by the central and state governments to tackle the e-cigarette industry in India.
In one of the Reuters report of March 2019, the then health minister Jagat Prakash Nadda called for a ban of Juul’s entry in India and said, such products are addictive and could undermine the efforts of the government to control tobacco usage.
The movement had independent momentum in India
In the same month this year, Central Drug Standard Control Organisation urged all drug controllers of the state and UTs not to allow manufacture, sale, import and ads of ENDS including e-cigarettes and flavoured hookahs.
In July 2019, central government informed the Parliament over the e-cigarettes worth $191,781 imported in India mostly from China, the US, Hong Kong and Germany between 2016-17 and 2018-19.
Prior to this announcement, 15 state governments and one union territory already banned the e-cigarettes. It includes Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Punjab, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Odisha and. Puducherry.
Although India has banned e-cigarettes, it is temporary as it was done through a presidential ordinance. Therefore, this ordinance has to be approved by the Parliament in the upcoming session.
So, the Parliament might scrutinize the bill or even create a committee to provide more insights, or it will collapse and again the whole history of e-cigarettes will repeat itself and may again affect the youth with epidemic diseases.
Role of Tobacco Lobby?
Unsurprisingly, the ban is expected to benefit the cigarette companies such as ITC and Godfrey Phillips. The tobacco industry recently found itself competing with e-cigarettes.
Furthermore, global tobacco manufacturers are investing heavily in technology. This is to indemnify the falling cigarettes demand worldwide due to high taxes and smoking bans.
However, the ban did directly help the makers of conventional cigarettes. Following the announcement on 18th of September shares of ITC, Godfrey Phillips and VST industries rose to 1%, 5.6%, 1.7% respectively.
ITC draws over 80% of its revenue from cigarettes selling under the most popular and favourite brands, Classic, Goldflake, Capstan and Navy Cut.
India doesn’t discuss tobacco with the same enthusiasm
According to WHO (World Health Organisation), India is the world’s second-largest consumer of tobacco counting 106 million adult smokers. Tobacco kills roughly 9,00,000 people per year. Moreover, India is also the 3rd largest producer of tobacco in the world after China and Brazil, producing 799.96 thousand metric tons per year.
Furthermore, not banning tobacco in India is a strategically developed decision by the government. Likewise, according to ASSCHOM, this sector contributes a whopping ₹11.79 lakh crore to the Indian economy.
ASSCHOM study also shows that India contributes 5% in the 12 billion USD of global tobacco leaf export trade. Moreover, the sector contributes a remarkable percentage in the commercial crops which helps in generating socio-economic and political benefits to people in the agricultural industry, farms, revenue and a creating a whopping foreign exchange for the country as it is exporting to over 100 countries.
Furthermore, the sector is also employing 45.7 million people comprising 20 million labours, 6 million farmers, 4 million leaf pluckers, 8.5 million workers in processing, manufacturing and exports and 7.2 million in retail and trading. Thus, this considerable number of people is a massive vote bank for any political party, and any ban on tobacco can shackle their political grounds.
Another influencing factor is the government and state-owned companies’ 28.64% stake in ITC, which is the biggest cigarette maker in India. The Centre itself owns 7.96% stake (₹23,000 crore). Its stakes are through SUUTI (Specified Undertaking of the Unit Trust of India) and UTI (Unit Trust of India). Furthermore, LIC (Life Insurance Corporation) owns 16.3%, GIC (General Insurance Corporation) 1.73%, NIAC (New India Assurance Company) 1.52% and OIC (Oriental Insurance Company) holds 1.11%.