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Has India’s vape ban made a difference?


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Has India’s vape ban made a difference?

The Australian government announced two days ago that it will ban recreational vaping and tighten other aspects of e-cigarette laws amidst what experts are calling a ‘tobacco epidemic’. The ban will also include vapes that do not contain nicotine – and it’s the country’s biggest crackdown on the tobacco industry in almost a decade.

Nicotine vapes already require a prescription in Australia, but there are such poor regulations and the black market is thriving. Under the new rules, only pharmacies can sell vapes– which require “pharmaceutical-type” packaging. The ban also covers disposable vapes popular with young people.

Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik invented the vape, or e-cigarette in 2003, to serve as an alternative to conventional smoking. In addition to the battery component, an e-cigarette comprises an atomizer and a cartridge containing either a nicotine or a non-nicotine liquid solution. But over the years, recreational use of the product has exploded especially among the youth. 

In a major boost to promote preventative healthcare, India banned the production, manufacture, import and export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement of vapes through the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Act in 2019. India’s massive population makes it one of the largest markets for tobacco products – the country has 106 million smokers, second only to China.

But almost four years after the ban, what has changed? 

A study by the George Institute for Global Health, published in Preventive Medicine Reports in 2023 confirms that vaping remains a major health challenge in India despite the ban. And it’s the youth with higher levels of education who are likely to indulge in it the most. The study revealed that just under two-thirds of those who were aware of e-cigarettes thought they were harmful and contained chemicals. The study also states that the most common reason for vaping in the country is the bandwagon effect. Most people got into vaping only because their friends did so first.

I reached out to people in our community who regularly vape or used to. Most of them preferred to remain anonymous, for obvious reasons, but their answers backed the aforementioned study’s finding– almost all of them first started vaping in social settings because it was ‘cool’ among their peers.

A(21), who recently moved abroad, currently vapes. “I started using it under some of my friend’s influence. One of the reasons was to quit smoking cigarettes which did happen cause I haven’t smoked a cigarette since last year.” But even when he was staying in the country, he admitted he has observed some vendors selling it to youngsters without checking their ages, and believes that there’s a considerable increase in vaping among teenagers who never smoked otherwise.

O (21) first started vaping when he was about 14-15, due to his peers at school and the so-called ‘cool factor’ associated with vaping at that time. He has given it up now but is a regular smoker of cigarettes. When asked about why he stopped, he said, “Initially, there was misinformation that vape is better than cigarettes/tobacco and chemicals — but I read more about it online and found out about the harmful polyols present in the vape flavours/liquids” but, he added, that it was ultimately also the decline of vaping in his peers that prompted him to give up.

Ironically, what I realised through these conversations is vaping seems to have been a starting point for a lot of young smokers. The easy access to vapes made them a gateway to a bigger journey of smoking cigarettes, weed, etc — creating a new generation of smokers who are turning to cigarettes instead to give up vaping.

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India is one of the very few countries which has enforced a complete ban on e-cigarettes, yet research suggests that people are still able to access them underground methods.

Vapes are considered safer than normal cigarettes because they do not contain harmful tobacco – the UK government is even handing them to some smokers for free in its “swap to stop” programme. But since vapes are a comparatively new discovery, there is not much research on their long-term effects, which makes it just as dangerous if not more. We used to consider cigarettes to be safer than they are before their harmful effects became known over time. Many countries have banned vaping after a string of deaths and potentially hundreds of lung illnesses tied to vaping came to light. 

Hong Kong reversed parts of its ban– particularly on the re-export of e-cigarettes and other heated tobacco products by land and sea in March. It has nothing to do with public health, this proposal is in response to the demand of the Hong Kong air freight industry. 

In the UK, e-cigarettes have been easily available to adults for the past 15 years and are the most popular quitting aid for those giving up tobacco– even as health campaigners and councillors demand tighter regulations and taxes. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency announced in 2021 that it would update regulations, clearing the way for licensed e-cigarette products to be prescribed to smokers by the National Health Service. 

Some believe that India’s complete ban on vaping is only giving way to underground trading and black markets – putting the youth in even more danger. Government scientists have now suggested that e-cigarettes and vaping products should be available only via prescription to help millions kick their smoking habits and to prevent new users from picking them up. India is also following this research closely and may have to reconsider its stance on vaping.

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