By cracking down on artificial nicotine products, India will miss the historical opportunity to reduce the burden of disease and deaths due to smoking and tobacco as these products are 95 percent less risky than conventional cigarettes, health experts said.
"E-cigarettes represent a very historical opportunity when you consider the diversity in the mosaic of different patterns of use in different products that are used at such high rates in India," Konstantinos E. Farsalinos, a research fellow at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre in Athens, Greece told IANS.
India has 11.2 percent of the world's total smokers. Over 11 per cent of the 6.4 million deaths worldwide were caused by smoking in 2015 and 52.2 per cent of them took place in China, India, Russia, and the US, according to a recent study published in the journal The Lancet.
"E-cigarettes are not safe but are certainly 95 per cent less risky than smoking conventional cigarettes," Alex Wodak, Emeritus Consultant, Alcohol and Drug Service, St. Vincent's Hospital, Sydney told IANS.
"The smoke from a conventional cigarette contains about 7,000 chemicals with mostly high concentrations but vapour from e-cigarettes contains only 150 chemicals which are mostly of low concentration," Wodak added.
In August, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued an advisory to state governments to ban Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) which include e-cigarettes, vape, e-Sheesha, e-hookah, etc.
According to experts, banning these may deprive smokers of a substantially less harmful alternative which can be against public health and can result in adverse consequences.
One should never make decisions based only on potential risks but they should always measure benefits and see where the ratio lies, they added.
"Regulation is needed but it should be risk proportional," Farsalinos said.
Earlier, in a statement, the Association of Vapers India (AVI) -- an organisation that represents e-cigarettes -- said the government has failed to offer an alternative to tobacco cigarettes known to cause many diseases, including cancer and lung disease.
"The government has so far relied on an emotional appeal to persuade tobacco users to kick the habit but never offered an alternative beyond gums and patches, which have a very low success rate," said Samrat Chowdhery, Director, AVI.
In such a scenario, "an attempt to ban e-cigarettes is regressive given that the government's stated policy is to provide wider choices to consumers for all products and services, and not restrict them," he added.
Although e-cigarettes too contain nicotine like tobacco cigarettes, they do not produce tar and toxic chemicals that cause most tobacco-related deaths across the world, the experts argued.
Moreover, 55 countries worldwide, including the UK, New Zealand, Norway and Canada, among others, have legalised the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes and e-liquids as consumer goods.
E-cigarettes are a proven stop smoking tool and while uncertainties undoubtedly remain about their long-term health impact, failing to explore the use of e-cigarettes could lead to the continued use of conventional cigarettes which currently kill millions, the experts noted.