The World Health Organization (WHO) has praised India’s decision to ban e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), as it follows in the footsteps of other southeast Asian nations.
India banned the devices earlier this week, with Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman citing growing usage among young people and public health as being among the reasons why the decision was made. “E-cigarettes were promoted as a way to get people out of their smoking habits but reports have shown that many people are not using it as weaning mechanism but are addicted to it,” Sitharaman said. The Centre issued a directive to state governments in August last year, calling for a ban. A number did so before the ordinance was issued on Wednesday.
“[The WHO] congratulates India for banning [e-cigarettes],” its Southeast Asia Regional Office (WHO-SEARO) tweeted. India joins WHO-SEARO nations including the Democratic Republic of Korea, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor-Leste in banning ENDS, which the WHO-SEARO describe as “harmful. [They] heat a liquid to create aerosol that is inhaled by the user. The liquid contains nicotine & other chemicals that adversely impact health. [Six] deaths & 380 cases of lung infections have been associated with e-cigarette use in the US.”
“WHO has been consistent that if e-cigarettes cannot be regulated effectively they should be banned,” said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jašarević. Others such as billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg and advocacy organisation Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids have voiced their support. The latter described the decision as “a historic step…part of a bold effort to protect youth from the risk of nicotine addiction.” Bloomberg – a prominent tobacco control advocate – lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “recognising this epidemic and putting the health of your citizens first.”
Globally, the tide seems to be turning against e-cigarettes. Countries including Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Singapore have moved to ban them; others heavily restrict them, such as Australia, Canada, Maldives, and Japan. The United States is reportedly mulling a ban on flavoured e-cigarette liquids, whilst two states – Michigan and New York – and a number of cities have banned them.
Others have criticised the decision to ban e-cigarettes, however, including the e-cigarette industry and some health groups who have argued for regulation in lieu of a ban. E-cigarettes can be a valuable tool in fighting tobacco use, they argue, and their prohibition could hamper tobacco control efforts. Others have gone so far as to query whether the ban is pandering to the tobacco industry in India, which is worth Rs 1,179,498 and employs 4.57 crore people. (India loses US$1.04 trillion to the effects of smoking every year). Following the ban’s announcement, Indian tobacco companies saw their share prices rise. Meanwhile, fourteen percent of adults smoke tobacco and 25.9 percent use smokeless tobacco. One million people lose their lives to tobacco use every year.
“In this exercise, what it [the Government] conveniently failed to mention with equal (if not more) vigour was that conventional cigarettes are far more injurious to health than e-cigarettes,” read an opinion piece in India Today. “If the government was indeed concerned about youth and public health, common sense tells us that the attack should have been directly on regular cigarettes and other tobacco products. But the government did not do so.”