“Half-Baked” India

Posted 20th September 2019 by Dave Cross
The most recent statistics from India show that 89,486,000 adults use tobacco every day. Each year, the country produces 82.12 billion cigarettes. While the government enjoys the revenue from its quarter stake in the national cigarette industry, almost one million die every year from its products – one death every six seconds. It makes absolute sense that it would pass a ban on the production and sale of vape equipment, doesn’t it?

Faced with a massive potential threat to its tobacco interests, the government moved on Wednesday to outlaw the manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertising of all vape products.

The Indian government justified the action through Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who said: “Its use has increased exponentially and has acquired epidemic proportions in developed countries, especially among youth and children.”

Sitharaman argued that vaping was being used as a way to get children into smoking by getting them addicted to nicotine.

It was a particularly odd statement for Sitharaman to make given that she went on to admit she has absolutely no idea how many Indians vape. Instead, she used figures from the United States to defend the measure. It’s was like using the statistics for Russian airlines (who lead the world in crashes and fatalities) as a reason to ban flights by Air New Zealand (the safest). Sitharaman could have referred herself to data from the United Kingdom but chose to ignore it.

Indians now face a year in prison, a fine of around £1100, or both for the first offence. This escalates up to three years incarceration and fines over £5000. Vaping itself remains legal for the time being. An utterly nonsensical situation.

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg issued his congratulations to the Indian government for promoting the tobacco industry: “Thank you Prime Minister Narendra Modi for your leadership on the issue of e-cigarettes, recognising this epidemic and putting the health of your citizens first.”

Likewise, resident fruitloop Dr. S.K. Arora, Delhi’s Additional Director Health, celebrated: “We had tough battle, getting the Vape expo event of 200 countries in India in 2017 cancelled, stopping entry of e-Cigarette by rejecting the NOC of Custom dept, stopping sale of e-Cigarette in IITF. Thanks Central Govt for Ban.”

A government spokesperson declared that it was prepared to defend its ban in court. Vikas Sheel, a senior federal health ministry official, said: “Over a period of time, people will not get their refills, so they will become responsible.”

Association of Vapers India responded: “If use is not banned, the government surely thinks vaping is not as bad as it is claiming. Secondly, Mr Sheel, if you are that confident on winning in courts why did you circumvent the judicial process to enact an ordinance?”

Sheel did not reply.

Samrat Choudhary, founder of the Association of Vapers India, went on to condemn the ban. He called it “lopsided” and “hypocritical”, noting that there had been zero deaths in India as a result of vaping.

“The government owns 28% of [the Indian Tobacco Company Ltd], a leading manufacturer of cigarettes,” Choudhary said, “which means it is a direct accomplice in causing deaths from smoking. And it earns money in taxes. So, all it is doing with this ban is killing off the competition to cigarettes.”

The response to the government’s move was predictable and mirrored what happened in the States following President Trump’s proposed flavour ban – share prices leapt in tobacco company stock:

  • ITC Ltd rose +1.8%
  • Godfrey Phillips India Ltd +7.8%
  • VST Industries Ltd +1%
  • Golden Tobacco Ltd +4.5

Senior Congress leader Milind Deora called out the move: “Compared to tobacco cigarettes/bidis and gutka, e-cigarettes are the lesser of two evils. Today's ban is half-baked in that it could redirect demand towards tobacco products.”

Related:

  • India, Tobacco Atlas – [link]
  • India Factsheet, WHO – [link]
  • Think Change India – [link]
  • Association of Vapers India  - [link]

Images: Pixabay, Tobacco Atlas, WHO

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker