India and vaping: When being lit is the problem
Mushroom clouds have never signified anything good
Mushroom clouds have never signified anything good.The ones that emerge from e-cigarettes or vapes are no different.
Yet, all over the country, in restaurants and bars, malls and offices, fast-food restaurants and high-end hotels, chai stalls and coffee shops, Indians happily vape away. The devices were banned by the government in 2019, based on recommendations by the Indian Council for Medical Research, but people have somehow found ways to buy, use, even refill them.
It’s young people with higher education who vape the most, says a study by the George Institute for Global Health, India, published in Preventive Medicine Reports in 2023. “The most commonly reported reason for this is ‘a friend used them,’” says Dr Thout Raj, research fellow at the institute, in the study.
But most unmodified e-cigs (the ones that don’t contain cannabis-derived psychoactives) are safer than cigarettes.This is simply because they do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two extremely harmful elements in tobacco smoke. So people who vape tend to use it as a way to quit traditional cigarettes. Often though, it only means they’re giving up one addiction for another, say doctors from Johns Hopkins, on a list of vaping practices on their website.
Avoid cigarettes, certainly. But don’t pick up the e-cig either. Here’s what vaping means for health, what it means in the eyes of the law, and what comes next.
Mouthful of germs: It should come as a surprise to no one that sugary sweet, flavoured vapes are bad for the teeth – or oral health in general, even though they’re not as bad as smoking regular cigarettes. “Research is still catching up,” warns Dr Manoj Verma, a dental surgeon in New Delhi. “There is no question that it causes excess bacteria in the mouth, which leads to tooth decay, cavities and gum diseases.” For vapers who can’t quit the habit just yet, Verma recommends limiting the intake of nicotine by choosing a low-nicotine or nicotine-free vape juice, drinking water after a vape, brushing one’s teeth twice a day, and, of course, visiting a dentist regularly.
Breathe out: There’s no doubt that vapes harm the lungs, says Dr Indu Bubna, consultant pulmonologist at Lung Care Clinic, Mumbai. She says she has seen a clear increase in the number of patients with respiratory problems who confess to using e-cigarettes. “Aerosols may include cancer-causing chemicals and tiny particles that enter deep into the lungs, leading to respiratory problems such as breathing difficulties, cough, and lung inflammation. Pre-existing asthmatics can have worsening of symptoms after vaping, too,” she cautions.
Street legal: Since 2019, the production, manufacture, import and export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement of vapes has been banned in India. “The Act seems well intentioned and is an attempt to get ahead of a trend that is universally acknowledged to be dangerous for everyone’s health,” says Abhey Narula, an independent lawyer based in New Delhi. But given that traditional cigarettes have not been banned and are so easily available on the streets, the prohibition of e-cigarettes seems arbitrary, he adds.
“We are a society that has recently embraced online gambling for money. Can we really make the argument that the state is acting against all the things that put our youth at risk?” Narula asks. “It feels like whoever is drawing the line between good and bad for us requires a steadier hand. The ban has just pushed the demand and supply underground, making it a situation similar to the use of pirated CDs of the 1990s and early 2000s.”
Does he think vapes will be legally available in India again? “I don’t see it, unless some major medical study proves otherwise. Legally, you can always mount a challenge to say that you can’t impose a ban on one product in a class but not the other without discernible criteria. So I’m sure there is a challenge pending somewhere by a vape company,” Narula says.
Flash forward: Hong Kong is likely to reverse its ban on the re-export of e-cigarettes and other heated tobacco products by land and sea by the end of this year. In the UK, e-cigarettes have been easily available for the past 15 years and are the most popular quitting aid for those giving up tobacco, even as health campaigners and councillors demand that vapes be taxed and displayed in plain packaging.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. Government scientists have now suggested that e-cigarettes and vaping products should be available only via prescription to help millions kick their smoking habits, but to prevent new users from picking them up. Their reports are also being tracked by India’s Ministry of Health so the effects will be felt closer home.
From HT Brunch, March 25, 2023
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