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Vivek Shah (name changed) was just 14 years old when he took his first puff, and, for twenty years, he kept puffing. Six months back he was introduced to vaping, and since then he says he hasn’t smoked a regular cigarette. The graphic designer from Chennai thinks the e-cigarette is a boon to all of those who really want to quit smoking.

There is trouble, however, for vapers like Vivek Shah since the Tamil Nadu government has decided to ban the use and sale of e-cigarettes in the state. “Instead of banning cigarettes, they are trying to ban a product which is helping us quit smoking cigarettes,” he says

There are numerous vapers like him who are asking the same question and lending voice to their concern is the Association of Vapers India (AVI), an organisation that represents e-cigarette users across the country. They were here in Chennai on Friday, July 13, 2018, to appeal to the state health minister and principal secretary and met the latter. The association has suggested to the government to bring about legislation to regulate the domain of alternatives to smoking like vaping, rather than ban it.

Vapers argue that their new nicotine intake mechanism can help to transition towards totally quitting smoking. The World Health Organization though has advised caution. It states that consumers should be advised not to use any of these products, because their safety and efficacy for helping people to quit smoking have not been scientifically demonstrated.

Tamil Nadu is not the first state to take a step in this direction though. Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra and Kerala too have already banned it. In fact, the organisation has cases going on in the states to legalize vaping and bring about the regulations instead. “We are asking them to regulate things like the age-factor, nicotine levels, manufacturing and also put a warning if need be,” says Pratik Gupta, Director, AVI.

Explaining the pros and cons of e-cigarettes, Dr Pradip Shah, HOD and General Medicine Specialist at Fortis Hospital, Mulund, says, “It is a device in which there is liquid which contains glycerol, nicotine and other constituents which are electrically heated and then that liquid turns vapour which can be inhaled or smoked. In regular cigarettes, there is no control on the chemical composition, but both are equally addictive….it can thus be assumed that it is relatively safe than the normal cigarette, but the con is that a person can addicted to e-cigarette too which contains nicotine in different proportions that harm the person and their body at large.”

AVI says e-cigarettes are indeed harmful but it is a less dangerous alternative to smoking. “I tried gums, the patches and everything, even herbal cigarettes. This is just a cessation device and it helps you quit smoking. It has worked for me and many others. What we are saying is to bring in systematic regulation and we will help in enforcing it, “says Pratik.

Another vaper, Gagan Das (name changed) says, “It has helped us on the road to quitting smoking. I have been vaping for the past one year and am already on my way to quit that too in a couple of months. Banning e-cigarettes is not the solution as there are thousands of smokers who can benefit from it. I urge the government to consider this and bring about regulation.”

“Current law gives us permission to ban e-cigarettes. COTPA only regulates the usage of cigarettes; there is no provision to ban it,” — K Kulandaisamy, state director of public health 

But, the government does not seem to be in the mood to cave in. K Kulandaisamy, state director of public health, says e-cigarettes are a big health hazard. “They are more harmful as they can be used easily without the knowledge of the parents because they have no smell. Sure, it is costlier than the cigarette, but many of the children in the city are affluent and they can buy these e-cigarettes very easily. Moreover, apart from other things, nicotine, first of all, is a severe addiction producing substance,” he argues.

If e-cigarettes are dangerous, cigarettes are even more dangerous. Why not ban them too? Kulandaisamy, has an answer for that. “Currently available law gives us permission to ban e-cigarettes. COTPA only regulates the usage of cigarettes; there is no provision to ban it,” he says. “The reason we are not able to put forward a proposal is because it is not in the national policy framework. But, as a public health professional and a doctor, we are advocating that. Doing advocacy and the health education only give partial results,” he adds.

Cyril Alexander, State Convenor, Tamil Nadu People’s Forum for Tobacco Control, points out that the companies who are making cigarettes are also the ones who are making e-cigarettes and other cessation products. “It is companies like ITC which are also making e-cigarettes and the nicotine chews; they sell it like chocolates near schools, it is so easily available and the children who are not addicted to smoking become addicted to this. If it helps in cessation, then why are cigarette manufacturers making e-cigarettes? They are bringing back smoking in different forms. There is no question of regulating it; you have to ban it 100%. When we are planning to cut its roots, when a new product comes in, it acts as a deterrent to the whole cause,” he says.

“The rule is there to ban cigarettes in public places. Even that is not being enforced rightly, as of now. On the one hand they are talking about the ban, and, on the other hand, there is something called the Tobacco Promotion Board, which is being promoted by the Central government. Moreover, political parties themselves are involved in the distribution of tobacco; then how would it be possible to ban it completely?” asks Cyril.

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