“Compared with many countries around the world, India has been proactive in introducing tobacco control legislation since 2003…. However, the legislation currently in place is not delivering the desired results — in terms of dissuading tobacco use and encouraging quitting,” said Geoffrey Fong, a professor of psychology at Canada’s University of Waterloo, who had co-authored the 2015 report.
India’s Tobacco Act is outdated
Calling for amendments to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA), the new report points out that this act was developed too long ago and needs updating. “Though the Act intended to be a comprehensive law on tobacco control, it was adopted more than 15 years ago. Also, the law was developed before [the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control] came into force [in 2005 and was ratified by India]. Now, with the passage of time, lacunas in the Act have become apparent and proved to be a key challenge in terms of effective implementation [sic],” said report author Professor Ashok R. Patil, chair of consumer law and practice at NLSIU, as quoted by the Financial Express.
Experts worry that set at 18 years, the current tobacco age limit leads to early initiation, and that the availability of single cigarettes and other loose tobacco products for sale, makes smoking more accessible, affordable and prevents smokers from being “regularly exposed to the warning labels the law requires on tobacco packaging.” Moreover, the report adds, the regulations around advertising and sponsorship in relation to tobacco products are so vague that they prevent authorities from setting clear advertising restrictions.
To this effect, the report makes 11 recommendations. These include raising the tobacco age limit from 18 to 21, eliminating designated smoking areas and tobacco product displays in shops, increasing penalties for any COTPA violations, and ban “the sale of single stick cigarettes, loose tobacco products, and smaller packs.” These amendments would also level up Indian laws with the WHO guidelines, which on the otherhand many public health experts find counterproductive, as they fail to differentiate between combustible tobacco products and safer alternatives.
Voicing his support for the report, former Chief Justice of India, Honorable Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, said that these recommendations need to be implemented right away. “The State’s primary duty is of improving and protecting public health under the Constitution of India. The recommendations from the NLSIU report need to be implemented urgently and immediately if India is serious about reducing tobacco use and protect Right to Health guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
Most Indian vapers are ex-smokers
Meanwhile, a recent cross-sectional survey of 3000 vapers across eight Indian cities, found that the vast majority were former smokers, who managed to quit or reduce smoking thanks to the use e-cigarettes. The study titled, “Patterns of Tobacco and E-Cigarette Use Status in India: A Cross-Sectional Survey of 3000 Vapers in Eight Indian Cities,” was conducted with the aim of obtaining data on the characteristics and tobacco behaviour profile of vapers in India.
An interview-based survey was performed in the 8 largest metropolitan cities in India, recruiting a total of 3000 subjects. The eligible criteria for being able to participate were being a current e-cigarette user, aged 18 years or more. Interviewers were asked to continue recruitment until a total sample of 375 was reached in each target city.
“A total of 3000 vapers (81.4% males and 18.6% females, median age 29 years) participated to the study. The majority (80%) were first exposed to nicotine via tobacco smoking, smokeless tobacco (SLT) use, or both. Most of the subjects (79%) believed that e-cigarettes were less harmful than smoking. The vast majority of smokers (71.3%) reported smoking cessation (30.0%) or reduction in consumption (41.3%) with the help of e-cigarettes. Similar changes were observed in SLT users. Participants reported minimal side effects and some health benefits after e-cigarette use initiation,” reported the researchers.
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