Over 1000 students and teachers along with several public health organisations have appealed to the prime minister to enforce a complete ban on e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).
In a letter, they said there is gross misinformation about harmful effects of these products among adolescents as they perceive these as “fun devices” that are safe.
“We are school students and are extremely concerned about a new type of product called e-cigarettes that is gaining alarming popularity among our peers. We find that students as young as 13 are using e-cigarettes as a fun device and later on getting addicted to it. There is a lot of misinformation about their harmful effects even among parents and teachers,” a student representative of 1000 school students said in the letter.
A recent study, ‘Emerging Forms of Tobacco Use in India’, by HRIDAY-SHAN, a voluntary organisation of social scientists, to gauge perceptions of ENDS and e-cigarettes amongst school and college students revealed that ENDS products have been gaining popularity among the youth and students as young as those studying in class six and seven were found to be carrying e-cigarettes in their school bags.
Last month, several doctors had written to the Prime Minister seeking a ban on these devices before it becomes an “epidemic in India”, especially among the youth.
Students lauded the Union Health ministry for its advisory as a timely measure to tackle the new emerging threat of e-cigarettes and sought a ban on these products that are easily available in the market and online.
“We urge you to please safeguard the youth from falling prey to the new emerging form of addictive products. We request you to ban products like e-cigarettes in India before several young people get addicted to them,” the letter said.
In August last year, the Health Ministry had issued an advisory to all states and UTs to stop manufacture, sale and import of ENDS after the Delhi High Court took strong exception of the Centre’s delay in coming up with appropriate measures to tackle the “new emerging threat” of e-cigarettes in the country.
Union Health Secretary, Preeti Sudan, has also written to the Commerce Secretary to block entry of JUUL, a US based company, manufacturing vaping devices like e-cigarettes, from entering India, saying, the entry of JUUL products, if not prevented, could undermine efforts taken by the government towards tobacco control.
“E-cigarettes are just a mechanism to deliver nicotine in an attractive format. They are being marketed as a harm reduction product which is contrary to the truth.
“Youngsters are being lured as it is easily available in different flavours. People should not get lured into puffing
e-cigs because they too, are harmful. E-cigarettes pose significant health risks to users that are frighteningly similar to those of conventional cigarettes,” Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay of Voluntary Health Association of India said.
A sub-committee group constituted by the ministry, on health effects of ENDS, considered 251 studies/reports and concluded that there is evidence to prove that ENDS and its variants, are harmful to users.
This committee of doctors from AIIMS, NCDIR and public health experts have concluded that ENDS are as harmful as any another tobacco product in terms of causing premature deaths and morbidity.
According to the committee, there is no evidence to show that they are less harmful, safe and helpful towards cessation efforts. The medical communities across the globe have also questioned the acceptance of ENDS as a harm reduction or tobacco cessation strategy.
13 states in India– Punjab, Karnataka, Kerala, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Puducherry, Jharkhand and Mizoram — have already banned use and sale of e-cigarettes, Vape & E-Hookah.
36 countries around the world have also banned sale of e-cigarettes.
“I treat patients suffering from cancer caused by tobacco use on a day-to-day basis. I observe that tobacco industry is devising new ways and launching new products specially to lure the young generation. Currently, we are facing new challenge of ENDS and as doctors are deeply concerned since it is being promoted as a harm reduction device,” Dr Harit Chaturvedi, Chairman of Cancer care, Director and Chief Consultant Surgical Oncology at Max Hospitals, said.
“In reality, these new nicotine products are just another way for companies to increase profits as well as aggressively marketing it to youth with no concern about the impact of lifelong nicotine addiction on users,” he said.