The Association of Vapers India (AVI) led the community of e-cigarette smokers, ‘vapers’ and users of other electronic smoking devices in the country into mass protests against the blanket ban on electronic smoking devices issued by the government earlier this month.
Mass gatherings and demonstrations were organised against the government’s move in Delhi, Hyderabad and Bengaluru while only awareness programmes could be held in Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai due to the government denying permissions in the latter for protests.
In Delhi, protests took place in Jantar Mantar with the Director of AVI, Samrat Choudhary, at the helm of affairs.
“AVI represents the community of e-cigarette users in the country and those who in the future may switch to e-cigarettes or quit smoking through harm reduction vaping devices. That’s 11 crore smokers in this country who with this ban have been denied the opportunity to switch to a less harmful alternative. Nicotine is still available in so many forms right from gums and patches to homemade beedis. Only in the form of a harm reduction alternative, it is banned,” Samrat Choudhary said while speaking to LiveWire.
“It is astonishing that the government ignored the stay orders of high court of Delhi as well as Mumbai, and even imposed bans on research. We will continue to voice our protest against the ban and organise more such protests in other cities of the country. If the government turns deaf ears to our demands, we will be forced to challenge it legally,” he added.
A number of vapers from AVI and beyond filed applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to various government departments and research institutes to learn more about the government’s mind-set that led it adopt such a hard-line view on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS).
To utter shock and dismay, the petitioners learnt from the RTI reply that no research had been conducted on the effects of ENDS across both central and state bodies.
Kanav Rishi Kumar from Delhi, an ex-smoker who quit through vaping, said, “It is inhumane of the government to bring an ordinance which puts the public’s health at risk. The government has the audacity to ignore global research and make a decision based on biased studies while it continues to hold 28% stake in the country’s largest cigarette company, ITC.”
“The ban marks a black day for the people of our democratic country. India has a long history of tobacco consumption stretching back centuries. Add to that we also have one of the largest smoking populations in the world. In this scenario, it is imperative that the government promotes scientifically proven, safer alternatives such as e-cigarettes for smokers and smokeless tobacco users. The ban on e-cigarettes defies logic and is biased. We urge the government to revisit their decision in the interest of public health,” said Dhaval Gogate, a pharmaceutist from Pune.
An array of studies and research papers, some of them still warm from print, claim that e-cigarettes can serve as a useful alternative to quit smoking with many doctors even going on to prescribe e-cigarettes to patients who find no other alternative to quit.
“E-cigarettes, unlike conventional cigarettes, do not burn tobacco thereby producing no tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most damaging elements in a conventional cigarette. Moreover, there is no evidence so far that vaping causes harm to other people, which is in contrast to second-hand smoke which kills 800,000 people every year,” said Dr Aparajeet Kar, a pulmonologist from New Delhi who was also at the protest in Delhi.
“While all our claims are backed with scientific studies, we are still waiting for the data on the vaping youth epidemic in India that the government is talking about,” said Olivier Vulliamy, a media professional from Goa, pointing to the teen vaping scare created by the government.
Kamal Bhattacharya, an artist from Bangalore, asked, “Nicotine in the form of cigarettes, gums and patches is widely and easily available. Vaping is just another method to inhale nicotine. Then why the government has banned only this category? The government allowed cigarettes to be sold easily and people got addicted and now they have to take little responsibility to undo this devil by allowing people effective means to wean off.”
Cary Edwards, a media consultant from Chennai who used to smoke more than 40 cigarettes for 23 years before switching to vaping, said, “In two weeks of switching I had done what I had never managed to do before – I quit smoking. Over the last two years of vaping, my wheeze has gone, my voice is clear, I can run up steps and have no crackle in my lungs when I inhale or exhale. It is crystal clear that there is some vested interest for the government behind this decision.”
Another vaper from Bengaluru said that the fight against the vape ban will intensify if the government keeps ignoring the rights of millions of people.
The legal fraternity has said that the ban on e-cigarettes is ultra vires to the constitution.
“When addressing issues of public health, it is imperative upon the state to act as a parent towards its citizens. By snatching away e-cigarettes, which are scientifically proven to be the most effective smoking cessation method, the state has not only condemned its 11 crore citizens to a lesser life and a bleaker future, but has also put at risk their families. The government has abdicated its duty as a parent and has decided to treat its citizens like traders – simply trading their lives and future away for higher revenues and the greater benefits of a select few,” said Pingal Khan, advocate, from Bangalore.
According to Business Insider, on January 18, the Centre for Disease Control USA announced that at least 450 vape-related illnesses had been reported in 33 states across the US till then. The illnesses had also reportedly claimed five lives and doctors feared that more were on the way. On being presented with this data, Kanav Rishi Kumar claimed that this was due to the alteration of the electronic smoking devices by adulterating it with a harmful mix of chemicals.
“A vaping device vaporises the chemical that you put in it. It is the user’s responsibility to use only the subscribed chemicals for that device. Unfortunately in the US, some people were very adventurous and experimented with things which they should not have. They mixed drugs made in the black market and created a weird chemical mixture illegally. This is what led to them getting hurt and even deaths in certain scenarios,” Kanav Rishi Kumar told Live Wire.
On being asked about regulations that can prevent the adulteration of electronic devices, he pointed to the necessity of strict laws to enact the same.
“There needs to be strict quality control checks on the devices being made and a very strict quality control check on the liquids being made for vaporisation. And the third control which is absolutely necessary is the check on the final product being sold in the market. We need to have good, intelligent regulators for this.”
All images courtesy: Association of Vapers India