The government of India has issued a ban on e-cigarettes, citing its hazardous effects on health. Indian Finance Minister made the announcement saying, “These novel products come with attractive appearances and multiple flavours; their use has increased exponentially and has acquired epidemic proportions in developed countries, especially among youth and children.” The concern regarding harmful effects of vaping has been a burning subject worldwide. Since this is a relatively new practice, the medical fraternity and researchers are yet to fully understand its long term effects on our health. But when tobacco products like cigarettes, for which we have scientific proof of leading to grave diseases like cancer, bronchitis, emphysema etc, are being sold with just a warning in bold on their packets, this ban feels like missing the woods for the trees. Shouldn’t we be looking at the bigger picture?

KEY TAKEAWAYS: 

  • The government of India has issued an order banning the production, import and sale of e-cigarettes.
  • The ban is being imposed on grounds of public health concerns.
  • Many are crying foul alleging that bigger culprits like tobacco products have been let go with just a warning on their labels.
  • Do we outrage over bans simply because we see them as a cessation of our civic rights? Or do not identify with the government in power?

E-cigarettes basically heat up a liquid containing flavouring and nicotine, converting it into an aerosol, which can be inhaled, to produce an effect similar to smoking.

One is not defending vaping here, having read numerous global reports regarding its ill effects on health very recently. The US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in April this year citing that they have reports of youth and young adults experiencing seizures following vaping, possibly due to high concentration of nicotine. While there are preliminary reports which link vaping to coronary heart diseases and stroke, there is no concrete research as of yet to corroborate the fact.

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However, one needs to keep in mind that vaping is too new for us to realise whether it is as bad as smoking a cigarette for us, or worse. According to Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, “People need to understand that e-cigarettes are potentially dangerous to your health. You’re exposing yourself to all kinds of chemicals that we don’t yet understand and that are probably not safe.”

Having said that, is banning e-cigarettes the right way of discouraging youth from embracing a potentially harmful habit? Don’t we all know how bans, no matter how well-intentioned, only spike the determination among people to do what they are told not to? Besides, vaping as a culture has taken fancy of a relatively small and urban sector in India, while the menace of tobacco products is manifolds in comparison. As many have pointed out on social media, why isn’t the government going after manufacturers of tobacco products instead? Isn’t that a bigger concern to the health of Indians?

Having said that, is banning e-cigarettes the right way of discouraging youth from embracing a potentially harmful habit? Don’t we all know how bans, no matter how well-intentioned, only spike the determination among people to do what they are told not to?

All these are relevant questions but isn’t this whataboutery on our part. Yes, tobacco products are a menace to our health like none, but can one even fathom the outrage and unrest ban of such a product could lead to? No government or political party is willing to take such big a risk. Secondly, the panic around vapes isn’t just localised to India. CNN has reported that US researchers are looking into 380 cases of lung illness associated with vaping, while a seventh death due to vaping related causes has recently been confirmed. The state California in fact will be looking into a tax policy regarding vaping pods. WHO has also warned people that vaping is harmful to health and may lead to addiction problems among youth.

The method of intake may change, but the substance at the root of cigarette addiction, nicotine, still finds its way to you with vaping. So while vaping may not be as big a problem right now our health, one cannot call the global panic around it baseless. Researches and studies may take a long time to deliver us a concrete result, but by then millions of people may already have done irreversible damage to their health.

What bothers me more right now is why are people advocating a bad and potentially risky habit? Is it instinctive to see a ban as a threat to our freedom? Yes, vaping is still seen by many as a healthier replacement of cigarettes, but if they may lead to addiction too, and yet we want to advocate using it against ominous signs of health risks, what does it say about us?

Image Credit: Lindsay Fox/ WikiCommons

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