World Health Organization Global TB report 2016, states that India accounts to
a whopping number of 2.8 million of the total 10.3 million new TB cases
globally. Moreover, research also states that deaths caused by oral cancer in India, cross over 10 lakh
annually. These numbers are alarming, India, is at the brink of a health
care crisis while under nutrition could be the major cause for the TB endemic,
the increase in the consumption of tobacco cannot be ignored. With every
passing budget the Finance Minister announces a hike in the excise duty of
tobacco and related products. In 2017, pan masala products, containing tobacco
or gutkha the excise duty had increased to 12 percent from 10 percent while for
other unmanufactured tobacco it raised to 8.3 percent from 4.2 percent earlier.
The excise duty on
non-filter cigarettes of length not exceeding 65 mm had been raised to Rs 311
per thousand from Rs 215. In 2016, the government had increased the excise and
customs duties on cigarettes by 9 per cent.
This year tobacco and related products were placed in the highest GST
bracket of 28 percent plus a 5 percent cess on tobacco and related products.
Apart from this, in the past few months there has also been a debate on the
packaging warnings that are issued on the cigarette packs.
But the real question here is, do these
measures have a substantial impact on the sale and consumption of tobacco or
related products? Tobacco consumption has emerged as a major health problem in
India, along with diabetes and cardiac diseases. The high amount of nicotine
and chemicals in traditional cigarettes are addictive and makes it almost
impossible for one to quit. The need of the hour is to look at an alternative
that will help addicts wean off the habit and eventually quit smoking. Vaping,
should be considered as an alternative in this endeavor.
In a recent step against cancer-causing
substances, Tobacco Control Division of the Union Ministry of Health and Family
Welfare has circulated a notice to withdraw the amendments of Cigarettes and
Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), Bill 2015 from the public domain for
modification. The new expected modified amendments will include action against
promoting E-cigarettes / Vaping devices. “The government and ministry should
look at vaping with a holistic approach and not jump to conclusions without
proper research. We believe that regulation of ENDS will provide 120 million
smokers access to technology that can create the difference between life and
death for them. A blanket ban is not a solution, but a violation of fundamental
right to choose better and safer alternatives over smoking,” said Nilesh Jain, founder, ivape.in.
Vaping is considered as a harm reduction
tool, according to experts. Vaping is an act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor
produced by an electronic device—a battery-operated device which vaporizes a
flavored liquid made of propylene glycol, glycerin and flavorings. In the month
of November ivape.in launched a campaign #nosmokenovember and received several
testimonials from customers who shared their experience and spoke about the
change that they experienced as they shifted from smoking cigarettes to vaping.
The also participated in a health and wellness expo. This was the first time a
vaping brand was a part of such an event where even doctors, nutritionists and
fitness enthusiasts were curious to know about the benefits of vaping. “We
believe that the awareness about vaping in India is bare minimum and banning it
will only escalate the problems that the government is already facing. The
products will be sold illegally and the product quality can also be
compromised. Currently all the products we are selling are ISO certified,” added Jain.
If we look at the US, the FDA policy is
working on shifting the focus from tobacco to nicotine and working towards a
far-reaching impact on public health. Evidence demonstrates that alternative
products designed to reduce harm have a place in helping people’s health
outcomes immediately. Clearly, more research needs to be done to validate harm
reduction especially in India, which has a huge tobacco burden and where access
to public healthcare is minimal at best. Making the role of preventive measures
is even more critical. Indian regulators and the health ministry must also take
a step towards new policies and encourage harm reduction alternatives, the
public health benefits can be unprecedented.