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UK health policy body says e-cigarettes less harmful: Trade representatives' letter to Harsh Vardhan

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

Almost two months after the Centre banned e-cigarettes, trade representatives promoting alternative smoking devices have drawn Union Minister Harsh Vardhan's attention to a UK health policy body's statement that such products are "far less harmful" than conventional cigarettes.

The Union Health Ministry has put the draft of a bill, that will replace an ordinance issued in September to ban e-cigarettes, in public domain seeking feedback and comments from public.

The ministry intends to introduce the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Bill, 2019, in the forthcoming session of Parliament.

In response to reports from the US that vaping led to illness, the Public Health England (PHE), in a statement, said, "We are as certain as ever that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking, which kills almost 220 people in England every day.

"Our concern is that the responses we have seen to the problem in the US and in other countries may increase the already widespread misunderstanding about the relative safety of nicotine e-cigarettes, deterring smokers from switching and risk driving vapers who have switched back to smoking. There is a real risk therefore that such a reaction will mean people continue to smoke, which will undoubtedly put lives at risk," it said.

The PHE, an executive agency of the UK Department of Health and Social Care, pointed to the fact that US Federal authority -- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- has made it clear on its website that the cause of the outbreak has been narrowed down to illegal THC-containing products, but the specific substance or substances has not been identified yet.

THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis and the CDC has said the products identified are being obtained off the street or from other informal sources. They further clarified that this is not a problem linked to long-term use of regulated nicotine vaping products.

The Trade Representatives of ENDS (TRENDS) said that the PHE has noted that no vaping-related cases have been reported in the European Union to date, that restrictions under the European Tobacco Products Directive mean that main chemicals under suspicion in the US such as THC and Vitamin E acetate oil are not permitted in e-cigarettes and that Vaping carries a small fraction of the risk of smoking.

It said the PHE has undertaken three rounds of assessment on e-cigarettes over the last four years and its report is an evidentiary review of over 400 peer-reviewed articles on the subject of vaping.

The TRENDS expressed hope that the Union Health Ministry will consider the PHE statement and all available evidence, studies and best practices from around the world while evaluating what is in the best interests of the citizens of India and then take a final decision with regard to e-cigarettes.

"With the Ministry of Health putting up the electronic cigarette bill in public domain for comments and feedback, we hope you will also opt for a stakeholder consultation before any further course of action," Praveen Rikhy, Convenor of TRENDS said in the letter to Vardhan.

Meanwhile, a consumer body -- Association of Vapers India -- has urged e-cigarette users to respond to the government's call for comments on the bill.

The AVI has asked the government to make a policy regarding the sale of e-cigarettes to make them available to those looking to quit smoking.

"Almost 10 lakh people die of smoking every year in India and giving them access to less harmful alternatives was the most effective way to save their lives. Further, about 10 lakh people who had already transitioned to e-cigarettes are now being forced back into smoking.

"We urge e-cigarette users to respond to the government's call for comments on the bill by sending a mail before November 8," AVI director Samrat Chowdhery said.

The Centre issued an ordinance on September 18 to ban e-cigarettes, making the manufacturing, production, import, export, distribution, transport, sale, storage or advertisements of such alternative smoking devices a cognizable offence, attracting jail term and fine.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, November 05 2019. 16:20 IST