Is the India Vaping Ban Right for Public Health?
In September 2019, the Indian government passed an executive order banning the production and sale of vaping products throughout the nation. Although vaping hadn’t become as popular in India as it is in markets such as the United States, several Indian companies had managed to become modestly successful selling e liquid and other vaping gear.
Indian officials cited the unknown safety profile of e-cigarettes and the potential for youth uptake as the reasons for the ban, which came hot on the heels of an announcement from U.S. President Donald Trump indicating that the United States government would soon be banning flavoured e-liquids with the goal of reducing youth uptake.
As of December 2019, the proposed U.S. ban on flavoured e-liquid has not yet occurred. Recent reports suggest that President Trump may have reconsidered the proposal because angering America’s e-cigarette users could stifle his 2020 re-election campaign. Recent surveys suggest that about 8 percent of American adults vape.
Another reason for the Indian vaping ban is a recent outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses reported across the United States. Although the U.S. media has used the outbreak as an excuse to paint nicotine vaping in a negative light, it has since been found that most – and perhaps all – of the incidents have been caused by the use of illegal THC vaping products. Nicotine vaping appears to have no connection to the illness.
So, is a vaping ban the right decision to protect public health in India, or has the government acted prematurely and put the nation’s future health at risk? Let’s examine the issue in further detail.
Are Among the World’s Top Tobacco Consumers
After China, India has the highest number of citizens who smoke in the world. About 100 million Indians smoke tobacco, and a further 200 million use chewing tobacco, paan or other forms of smokeless tobacco. Compare those figures to the United States, where around 34 million people smoke and about 8 million use smokeless tobacco. India, in other words, has around 258 million more tobacco users than the United States. We’ll revisit those figures in a moment.
The Public Health and Economic Impacts of India’s Vaping Ban
Tobacco-Related Disease and the Economic Burden of the Sick
Because so many tobacco products are sold through street vendors in India, collecting taxes on tobacco sales has always been problematic for the Indian government. Nevertheless, the government collected 278.23 billion rupees in tobacco taxes in 2016. Tobacco tax revenue – and the importance of that revenue to the Indian fiscal budget – continueto grow each year. It is possible that a projected loss in tax revenue due to the increased uptake of vaping played a role in the government’s decision to ban e-cigarettes in India.
Unfortunately, the tax revenue does little to offset the terrible public health cost of tobacco use in India, where tobacco kills about a million people prematurely each year – usually due to cardiovascular disease. About one third of the world’s oral cancer cases also occur in India due to the high prevalence of smokeless tobacco use. Oral cancer, in fact, accounts for 30 percent of all cancer cases within India.
While it’s true that vaping could present some still-unknown long-term health risk, it’s also true that vaping has been around long enough that it’s no longer a new trend. E-cigarettes have, in fact, been available worldwide for more than a decade. Most health experts agree that vaping is significantly less harmful than tobacco even if it can’t be called safe in absolute terms.Tobacco use is the world’s leading preventable cause of death, and some have said that vaping could represent one of the greatest public health breakthroughs of all time. It’s a shame that the Indian government hasn’t at least explored the possibility that vaping could bring an end to the million tobacco-related deaths here each year.
The Economic Benefit of a New Industry
If there is concern within the Indian government about the loss of tax revenue that would result from allowing vaping products to remain on the market, that concern isn’t just short-sighted in light of the economic burden of the millions of Indians sick from tobacco-related diseases. It’s also short-sighted in light of the incredible impact that the vaping industry could have had on the Indian economy – and in light of the tax revenues all of that commerce could have generated.
Earlier in the article, we pointed out that there are around seven times more tobacco users in India than there are in the United States. The U.S. is the world’s biggest market for vaping products, and it boggles the mind to consider the number of jobs that the vaping industry could have created in India if it had been allowed to flourish.
In the United States, the vaping industry supports an estimated:
- 11,469 vape shops
- 166,007 jobs
- $24.46 billion in yearly sales (1.74 trillion rupees)
Imagine the number of jobs that could have been created in India if just a fraction of our tobacco users had been convinced to switch to vaping. How many of our tens of millions of unemployed workers could have found gainful employment in the vaping industry? How much tax revenue could our government have collected from that commerce?
Is Teen Vaping Really a Concern in India?
In addition to the unknown safety profile of vaping, the second reason cited for the Indian vaping ban is the potential for youth uptake. Indian lawmakers have noticed that in the United States, millions of teens have taken up vaping and apparently consider it something of a fashion statement. Those lawmakers, however, have failed to consider the fact that just one e-cigarette brand – JUUL – is responsible for youth uptake in the United States. Researchers have studied the marketing tactics that JUUL used when the brand first launched and determined that the company actively marketed its products to youth. JUUL – or some other e-cigarette brand – could never get away with using those marketing tactics in India because they’d be watched by regulators too closely.
Meanwhile, youth nicotine uptake continues to occur in India every day – but those children aren’t vaping. They’re smoking cigarettes and bidis, or they’re using paan or chewing tobacco. They’re becoming India’s next generation of cancer and heart disease victims, and instead of doing something about it, our government banned a less harmful alternative that could have changed the future of our nation’s public health.
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