~ The Economic Times Consumer Freedom Conclave highlights India is missing a public health opportunity through blanket bans on harm reduction alternatives ~
MUMBAI, India, Nov. 16, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — India continues to have the second largest tobacco consuming population in the world. The Indian Government has taken several measures in order to curb tobacco consumption through implementation of tobacco control policies. However, the blanket ban on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDs), deprives millions of adult smokers in India the access and right to make informed decisions on safer tobacco harm reduction alternatives. Recently, The Economic Times, India’s leading media conglomerate, held a panel discussion as part of its Consumer Freedom Conclave based on the theme of ‘Adopting a Smoking Cessation Approach to Save Lives’.
The summit saw participation from eminent regulatory voices, policymakers, academia, scientific and medical experts, legal, think tanks, and consumer organizations amongst others who shared their perspectives on consumer freedom and the need for legitimizing alternate harm reduction products to aid smokers to reduce or eliminate their health risks.
Globally, countries are altering their traditional tobacco control policies and are exploring a ‘harm reduction’ approach, to offer adults who would otherwise continue to smoke, scientifically substantiated less harmful products as alternatives. India also needs to rethink its approach as its otherwise missing a great public health opportunity.
Delivering his keynote address, Prof. M.V. Rajeev Gowda, Ex-Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, said, “India is missing a public health opportunity of reducing harm with the expansive ban on the broad category of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDs). Such bans are driving the rise in illicit trade methods and encouraging black market. Additionally, it comes in the way of innovation, as these products can be helpful for smokers to phase out their addiction to cigarettes and enable them in quitting smoking. India can take many learnings from other countries which are taking strong strides in their journey to build a smoking cessation category by adopting science-backed policies enabling consumers to make a choice to switch to less harmful alternatives. Using ENDs or heat-not-burn devices can significantly reduce harm, and improve public health. It is time to re-think this ban and rather adopt the policy of regulation.”
“Consumption of tobacco has gone up, but smoking has gone down. You will rarely find people smoking in public places. According to me, there has been a lot of awareness,” said Dr. K. Madan Gopal, Senior Consultant Health, NITI Aayog.
During a discussion on role of progressive policies in helping countries achieve its public health goals, Dr. Kiran Melkote, Orthopaedic surgeon based in Delhi, India, and member of AHRER – Association for Harm Reduction, Education and Research, said, “On an average it takes smokers 30 attempts to quit and the large majority never manages to do so as the likelihood of quitting decreases with each attempt. The ban on ENDs has only managed to remove a competitor for cigarettes and cemented the tobacco industry in India. The inclusion of Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRT) in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) is a step in the right direction, however, we need to keep progressing on such policies. Lastly, while drafting laws there must be a representation of tobacco users to understand their fears and aspirations into account which is lacking at the moment.”
Sharing his perspective on how we can better sensitize both the lawmakers and the population on the benefits of switching to less harmful alternatives, Prof Dr. Nimesh G Desai, Senior Consultant in Psychiatry, and former Director IHBAS, said, “In the last 30-40 years, there have been progressive policies and programs for tobacco control and harm reduction by the Government. Addictions related to alcohol and tobacco can be defined as bio-behavioural disorders which unfortunately also bring significant social and moral dimensions. For products where we have equivocal evidence, regulation is a much better approach than an outright ban.”
Upendra N Sharma, Partner, JSA Advocates & Solicitors, shared, “India needs to strengthen dialogue on regulation and adopt policies that will help achieve the larger national goals and objectives. Today, banned products are available in the grey market resulting in revenue loss for the exchequer. Additionally, there is no control on quality and youth of any age has access to it.”
Sharing his views on the leading challenges of substance abuse in the context of quitting cold turkey or finding alternatives, Charles A. Gardner, PhD, Executive Director, INNCO said, “Every smoker is different, one size does not fit all. Contrary to the belief that more alternatives will increase nicotine usage or dependency, more options to quit a deadly product is always better. We must encourage people to move away from toxic forms of tobacco and nicotine use. There is a need to understand that nicotine is not carcinogenic or does not cause other health problems usually associated with smoking. Such misinformation is the biggest impediment in the public mind but also in policymakers to bring about a positive shift in society. “
During a discussion on legitimizing alternate healthier products as a strategy to help smokers reduce or eliminate their health risks, Dr Bharat Gopal, Senior Pulmonologist & Director, National Chest Centre, New Delhi, said, “There is a very large unmet need where we are not able to extend help to smokers who wish to quit. Many times the only advice we can give is to quit or die. Whereas, the ideal way would be to provide less harmful alternatives to those who are unable to quit smoking. Harm reduction as part of quitting smoking is a critical aspect that needs to be looked at in a much holistic and integrated way.”
The participants were unanimous in stating that it will be better to have safer alternatives available in the market which can help reduce the harm and contribute towards better public health.
For more information on The Economic Times Consumer Freedom Conclave, please visit the website here, https://etunwired.et-edge.com/virtual/cfc/
About ET Edge
Times Strategic Solutions Ltd., functional under the brand name ET Edge, is an Economic Times initiative founded to empower multiple industries and segments by sharing critical business knowledge through strategic conferences and summits. Encompassing the Indian business vista, ET Edge strives to bring together visionaries and key leaders on its knowledge platforms to create social and business ecology conducive to the positive changes required by the industry. The main aim of this initiative is to channel global business intelligence through summits and conferences in overarching lectures, hands-on workshops, panels, roundtables and case studies. The forums ensure senior decision makers are equipped with information and networks to respond to challenges they face not just in India but also globally. Launched in 2013, it made its foray through domestic conferences. It has now steadily moved into new formats not just covering knowledge sharing platforms such as conferences but also includes exhibitions, community building and more across physical and digital arenas.
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