Dr. Maqsood Siddiqi and Prof. Rajesh Sharan are once again urging lawmakers in India to support vaping as a smoking cessation aid.
India is plagued by extremely high smoking rates, including a sharp rise in female smokers over the last ten years. According to the 2016 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study published in The Lancet medical journal, India had the second highest number of smokers in the world behind only China. Using data from 195 countries, the GBD study found the number of deaths attributable to smoking had actually increased by 4.7 percent between 2005 and 2015. This lead to it jumping from third to the second leading cause of death and disability globally. Last year, two prominent Indian doctors sent a letter to the Union Health and Family Welfare Minister, J.P. Nadda, in order to make the case for e-cigarettes as a legitimate smoking cessation tool. They argue that especially in a country like India, it is critical to follow the lead of nations who have successfully navigated the same waters.
Working in the Wrong Direction
While Indian officials have seemingly let this letter go unnoticed, the same can not be said for the explosion of e-cigarettes in India. In fact, the continued rise in vaping prompted the Health Department to request that a committee was formed to assess the potential risks. The goal of the research, which started in early June, was to decide if a ban of vaping was the correct route to take. To the dismay of public health experts around the globe, they concluded an all out ban would be appropriate. Many feel that the steady decline in smoking rates worldwide have only sped up as e-cigarettes have grown in usage. For a country that is home to over 11% of the world’s smoking population, reducing this astronomical number should be first and foremost. Countries such as the UK, that have gone all in on vaping for smoking cessation, are reporting the lowest smoking rates they’ve ever recorded. With so much at stake, Dr. Siddiqi and Prof. Sharan made another attempt at changing the opinion of legislators in India.
A Second Letter
Dr. Maqsood Siddiqi is the Chairman of the Cancer Foundation of India. He has over 35 years of experience in public health management in both India and abroad. Dr. Rajesh Sharan is a Professor in the Biochemistry Department of North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) who has done extensive research into biomarkers for cancer. Both of these respected doctors have spent their careers fighting cancer and looking for ways to minimize its effect. In what is now their second letter to the Union Minister, they once again seriously suggested that he carefully consider between prohibition and regulation. They firmly believe prohibition will be detrimental for public health by creating an environment in which people who wish to quit smoking have less options available. A study done by the non-profit, Reason Foundation, found that if allowed to fairly compete with cigarettes in India, vaping could decrease the amount of smokers in the country by 50% over the next 20 years. They even went as far as to suggest that “In 30 years, vaping might eliminate smoking altogether.”
Proposed bans like the one facing Indian citizens harm the already pitiful public understanding of e-cigarettes and their risks compared to smoking. While research is still incomplete and coming in everyday, a consensus is growing around at least two questions about vaping. First, that they are in fact a lot less dangerous than traditional cigarettes, and second that e-cigarettes are an extremely effective smoking cessation aid. We must heed the warnings of countless researchers who argue that the rise of e-cigarettes have only bolstered the decline in smoking rates. If we do not, we risk allowing smoking to gain back the ground that it has lost over the last five years.
What do you think about India’s proposed ban? Why do you think that vaping gets treated the same as smoking in public policy so often? To what extent do you think that vaping SHOULD be regulated? Let us know what you think in the comments below.