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India’s Challenge

The challenge facing tobacco harm reduction in India.

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POTV has been documenting India’s struggle with tobacco harm reduction for the last three years. The challenge the nation faces is that in a country of 1.3 billion people, there are 120 million smokers (accounting for 12% of the world’s smokers). This ridiculous number results in a shameful 1,000,000 annual smoking-related deaths each year.

Part of the response, in 2015, included the production of a special chapter covering the evils of vaping in school textbooks. Quite how this would help overcome tobacco-related disease is unclear, but it ensured that certain politicians could continue to make a very healthy living from the sale of beedi cigarettes.

By last year things had really moved forward: “E-cigarettes are not a form of nicotine replacement therapy and are not recommended by the WHO,” said the head of the Resource Centre for Tobacco Control in Chennai. It all led to the nonsensical situation where people were being arrested and prosecuted for selling vape equipment and liquids – but the sale of hard drugs was being ignored. Shockingly, at the same time online sales of vaping kit was being made illegal in the Punjab, a survey revealed 60% of children had tried drugs.

For whatever reasons, the nation is falling in line with the World Health Organisation’s ignorant approach to vaping, and the media frequently carries articles that are nothing more than smears and lies.

The Indian Express currently reports Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi as saying: “It was claimed the device would help people quit smoking. But studies show it has, in fact, encouraged more people to start smoking because it’s marketed as a product with no harmful effects,” and that “OD’ing on e-cigarettes can even be fatal.”

In another article, the same paper states that: “Scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of [vaping] as a smoking cessation aid is scant and of low certainty, so it cannot currently be determined whether [vaping] helps or hinders most smokers in quitting.”

They trumpet that the future is all about doing more of the same, and herald a claimed two million people signing up to traditional (ultimately failing) quit programs.

Professor Rajesh Sharan addressed the subject of the challenge to harm reduction in India at the Global Forum for Nicotine in Warsaw, Poland.

“Young people like choices,” said Sharan, “they don’t like to be told ‘don’t smoke’ or ‘quit tobacco in any form’. Harm reduction should be appealing to them. It should be graded to meet their requirements.”

“I am relatively new in this field, and our experience is that there ought to be awareness and advocacy first – and no tobacco remains the best option. But second best option is harm reduction where more choices must be made available to the population groups.”

Sharan is at odds with the medical and political communities in his home nation. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the fact that he has been carrying out a study alongside Doctor Konstantinos Farsalinos. Readily admitting that his survey is not conclusive, he does highlight that the response from smokers (when asked if they’d like the opportunity) was 72% in favour of using ENDS (vaping) as a means to quit smoking – far in excess of that obtained by traditional quit methods.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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