Monday, June 24, 2024

Is the ban on tobacco effectively implemented in India?

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In a recent submission, Lakshmi Ramamurthy, Hon. Trustee, Centre for Public Policy Research, pointed out that India, in its act of imposing a ban on e-cigarettes in 2019, failed to make the distinction between the different classes of products.
While in the Finance Bill, the government acknowledged the distinction between traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and HTP for taxation purposes, this distinction has not been applied in the context of the ban on e-cigarettes.
Panama hosted the Conference of the Parties tenth session (COP10) in February. COP10, under the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC), holds immense significance for the future of public health. The FCTC addressed three critical aspects of tobacco control: demand reduction, supply reduction, and harm reduction. The conference this time focused on forward-looking measures, exploring cutting-edge technology beyond FCTC, and laying the groundwork for COP11.
As an alternative to combustible tobacco used in cigarettes with proven public health impact, various countries across the world have embraced electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), such as vapes, and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS).
A study conducted by Public Health England indicates that the risk of passive smoking associated with e-cigarettes is very low, as there is no combustible tobacco.
Despite existing research and facts on e-cigarettes, the Finance Ministry of India announced a ban on e-cigarettes, following which manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage, and advertising related to e-cigarettes are prohibited.
This prohibition instituted a comprehensive ban on e-cigarettes, encompassing all forms of ENDS, heated tobacco products (HTP), e-Hookahs, and similar devices.
Although often grouped together as a single product class, these items constitute a diverse array with potentially significant disparities in toxicant production and nicotine delivery mechanisms.
However, the Indian Government, in its Act, failed to make the distinction between these distinct classes of products. While in the Finance Bill, the government acknowledged the distinction between traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and HTP for taxation purposes, this distinction has not been applied in the context of the ban on e-cigarettes.
India, a key member of the FCTC, grapples with the challenge of having the world’s second-largest number of smokers, approximately 100 million (GATS 2017). ICMR, in its Cancer Registry Program, found that tobacco-related cancers accounted for nearly half (48.7%) of the country’s cancer burden.
India, which has predominantly concentrated on supply and demand reduction, has made notable progress in implementing measures like taxation, content regulation, and awareness campaigns. However, the outcome of tobacco control has been only moderately successful.
Approximately 5.3% of India’s healthcare expenditure is allocated to treating tobacco-related diseases, resulting in an annual cost of ?13,500 crore, and in 2023, tobacco-related healthcare expenditure accounted for 1.04% of the GDP.
The widespread use, particularly in the form of smoking beedi and chewing tobacco, has raised significant concerns for public health in India. Over one million adults in India lose their lives annually due to tobacco use, representing 9.5% of the total mortality rate, making tobacco a leading preventable cause of death in the country. Despite the health risk, the quit rates in India, especially among men, remain low at just 20%.
Addressing these challenges necessitates strategies such as improving access to cessation support, addressing psychological barriers, and countering the influence of the tobacco industry to achieve a meaningful reduction in tobacco use.
India’s current framework for tobacco control has yet to fully introduce harm reduction strategies, which involve exploring safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes. Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Sweden, Japan, and Canada have embraced the concept of safer alternatives within their global tobacco control policies.
The Annual Population Survey of the UK reported the lowest smoking rates since 2011, with only 12.9% of the adult population smoking cigarettes.
The latest headlines for tobacco duty statistics say that total tobacco receipts for the financial year 2022–23 were 3% lower than the previous year. Interestingly, 5.2% of the survey respondents stated that they were current users of an e-cigarette, an increase from 4.9%.
For India, the key focus should be on scientific harm reduction strategies and further exploring cutting edge technology with policymakers across the world. Rather than implementing a blanket ban, a risk-based approach, regulating products based on toxicants, should be considered. By integrating better and safer alternatives and prioritising the reduction of smoking prevalence, India can take steps toward achieving its goal of diminishing the burden of tobacco-related diseases and deaths.

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