Smoking an e-cigarette also popularly known as “vaping” is on an alarming high in India, forcing High Court to ban it in some parts of the nation. The wave of Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), a battery-operated smoking device that creates an aerosol by heating a mix of liquid nicotine, propylene glycol, water, glycerine and flavour, which, when inhaled, gives the feel of smoking a real cigarette started from China in 2004 and was sold as a “healthy alternative to tobacco”. But Kamal Verma, Senior Manager, Concepts, Fiinovation warns us against it, calling it a marketing gimmick that you shouldn’t fall for.
According to the World Health Organisation, since 2005, the e-cigarette industry has grown from just one Chinese manufacturer to a global business worth an estimated $ 3 billion, with 500 brands and 8,000 flavours. The cost of an e-cigarette starts from Rs 500 going anywhere around Rs 5000.
While manufacturers claim the aerosol is just water vapour, but tests have detected the presence of toxic chemicals in it. There are several studies that indicate that e-cigarette vapour is harmful for children, adolescents, and for foetuses in pregnant women. A 2016 Elsevier study on 27 individuals surveyed globally for e-cigarettes found three deaths associated with nicotine poisoning. The report also recorded harmful effects such as respiratory ailments and gastrointestinal problems, while due to the misconception that they are relatively harmless, they are proving to be a gateway drug for nicotine addiction among the young — including teens who may not have taken up smoking at all.
It can have long-term side-effects which includes insomnia, anxiety, a intensified exposure to hypertension, and other complications like cardiovascular disease, complications in pregnancy and low sperm count.
As per a statement by Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck oncosurgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai; the device has encouraged more people to start smoking because it’s marketed as a product with no harmful effects. Overdosing on e-cigarettes can even be fatal. The minimum lethal dose of nicotine is 30-60 mg; an e-cigarette vial contains about 10 mg of nicotine. If 30 mg of nicotine is consumed in one go, it can be fatal. In fact, the World Health Organisation has maintained that there is little and “low quality” evidence that e-cigarettes actually help smokers quit tobacco and eventually smoking. It also warns that toxicants in e-cigarettes can have harmful effects on a person’s health.
A World Health Organisation (WHO) report released in 2014 on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems or ENDS stated nicotine to be a tumour promoter. Nicotine seems involved in fundamental aspects of the biology of malignant diseases, as well as of neurodegeneration. The evidence is sufficient to caution children, adolescents, pregnant women, and women of reproductive age about ENDS use due to its potential for fetal health implications.
While these deadly beasts aren’t an easy catch in the Indian market, around 30% to 50% of the Indian e-cigarette market is online and China is the biggest supplier. Although ITC makes EON vaping devices in India, still India does not regulate e-cigarette sales. A recent plea by an homemaker led the government looking at banning the product altogether. States like Punjab, Bihar, J&K, Maharashtra, Karnataka and recently Kerala have banned e-cigarettes even though the product continues to be imported, distributed, marketed and sold without licence or registration.
What is the way forward for authorities in India now? The way shown by Punjab; being the first state to ban e-cigarettes and book e-commerce players selling it goes on to prove that until a law or policy is laid down, drug inspectors will find themselves working in a legal grey zone. Sales of e-cigarettes are on the rise, with mint and bubblegum flavours being most favoured by adolescent users. E-commerce outlets retail the device in their health section with keywords such as “No tobacco, No tar”. E-retail sales make it very difficult to track the age of buyers. In Europe, sales to children under the age of 18 is banned; in the US, e-cigarettes are regulated by the USFDA. Probably India too should start taking precautions before we reach the stage of cure.