In a country with a sharp divide in attitudes about e-cigarettes, studies are about to be undertaken to see what, if anything, needs to be done to regulate the devices. The government of India does not currently regulate e-cigarettes and vaping products at all, but an opposition to vaping has arisen that says it should be banned to protect children and youth.
India has taken a tough stance on smoking, but the federal government does not regulate e-cigarettes. The devices are banned in two of the country’s 29 provinces, but elsewhere they can be freely purchased in numerous places. But in 2014, a committee appointed by the government decided that e-cigarettes are “much more sinister than smoking.” In sharp contrast to the opinions of many health experts in other countries, the Indian researchers consider the propylene glycol in e-cigarettes to be “an industrial poison” and believe e-cigarette use leads to addiction.
India’s opponents of vaping also insist that any nicotine-containing product is illegal in the country without government registration. Nicotine gums and patches are registered, but because liquid nicotine is a different product, the argument is that it must be registered separately. But the hostility towards vaping that is shown by Indian researchers makes it unlikely that e-cigarettes could get legal registration without a fight.
The health department of Maharashtra, one of the two states where the sale of e-cigarettes is banned, wants a complete ban. But the government has decided to do more studies first. E-cigarette sales are also banned in Punjab.
The current unregulated e-cigarette sales across most of India do allow access to the product to anyone, including teenagers and even children. Experts agree that sensible regulations should be in place to prevent the sale of vaping products to minors, and to ensure safety and quality control.
But concerns that teen vaping could lead to smoking are largely unfounded. Studies from the United States have found that while teen vaping is on the rise, teen smoking rates have sharply declined. Teens who are prone to smoke may be choosing e-cigarettes instead, and there is no evidence that teens who are not prone to smoke are vaping. One study in the U.S. was cherry-picked by vaping opponents to make the claim that vaping leads teens to take up smoking later, but in actual fact, this was only true of teens who vaped as opposed to teens who did not. In other words, a few teens who vaped ended up smoking, but virtually no teens who never vaped ended up smoking. But looking at the same study’s teens who vaped only, less than 5 percent went from vaping to smoking, and those only reported having tried a tobacco cigarette once.
Concerns about teen and youth nicotine addiction are behind many of the world’s vape bans and restrictions. A few countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, have loosened up regulations and bans, recognizing that e-cigarettes could be life-saving devices for people who are already addicted to the deadliest nicotine delivery system: tobacco cigarettes. India is the world’s second largest consumer of tobacco products and its third largest tobacco manufacturer. The country is considered to be weak in terms of anti-smoking campaigning, not having implemented pictorial warnings on cigarette packages until last year.
Ironically, one of the biggest problems for India in terms of cutting smoking is the alarming anti-vaping attitude of some of its health experts. Some of these researchers appear to want a complete prohibition on e-cigarettes, which would leave the country’s nearly 300,000 smokers with one less option for better health.