Hundreds of vapers, harm reduction advocates, medical professionals and members of the legal fraternity came together on Saturday to oppose the government’s decision to ban e-cigarettes and vaping in the country. The Association of Vapers India (AVI), an organisation that represents e-cigarette users, held nationwide protests in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai.
The consumer body organized awareness drives in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata where government authorities and the police denied permissions to hold the protest.
The protesters termed the ban wilful genocide by the government as it will push current vapers back to deadly smoking and deprive the country’s 11 crore smokers of safer options. Smoking kills nearly a million people in India every year. They said the government’s unilateral decision is based on its vested interest in tobacco industry. The government is neglecting public health as well as human rights to shield cigarette commerce as vaping has led to historic declines in smoking rates in countries where it has been allowed, they said.
The protesters demanded withdrawal of the ordinance which bans the consumption, production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement of e-cigarettes.
Samrat Chowdhery, AVI director and harm reduction advocate, said, “So many people are on the streets raising their voice against the unconstitutional and draconian vape ban. The message is loud and clear from the people that the ban should be withdrawn with immediate effect.
“It is astonishing that the government ignored the stay orders of Hon’ble 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 organize 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.
National coordinator for the protests Jagannath Sarangapani, who is based in Hyderabad, said they were denied permission to hold protests in three of the six cities, which reveals the autocratic approach of the government. He added, "How can a ban be announced without adequate research, discussions with all stakeholders and without debate by our elected representatives? This is a knee-jerk reaction to a new tobacco harm reduction route, which needs regulation not a ban. This is not how one tackles public health policy."
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 govt promotes scientifically proven safer alternatives such as e-cigarettes for smokers and snus for smokeless tobacco users. The ban on e-cigarettes defies logic and is biased. We urge the government to revisit their decision in public health interest,” said Dhaval Gogate, a pharmaceutist from Pune.
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 of the government behind this decision.”
Another vaper from Bengaluru said the fight against the vape ban will intensify if the government keeps ignoring the rights of millions of people.
The legal fraternity said 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 a trader – simply trading their lives and future away for higher revenues and the greater benefits of a select few,” said Pingal Khan, advocate, from Bangalore.
Dr Aparajeet Kar, a pulmonologist from New Delhi who was also at the protests, said, “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.”
Pointing to the teen vaping scare created by the government, Olivier Vulliamy, a media professional from Goa said, “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.”
Maneesh Kasera who switched to vaping in his 50s after decades of smoking, said, "Our government doesn't have the honesty to declare the real reasons for the ban. Over 68 countries have regulated instead of banning. Teen vaping 'epidemic' is an overblown myth not backed by any research or statistics. It is clear that this is protection of the tobacco industry and tax collection. Everything else is eyewash."
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.”
The consumer body plans to hold more protests against the ban on e-cigarettes as well as against the bar on research. It will also spread awareness about harm reduction through e-cigarettes. Protesters signed a petition to the prime minister and wrote testimonials which will be sent to authorities.