Jul 16, 2015
Actually the situation is far worse than the picture painted below by Dr Farsalinos. Pray, carry on dear reader, and I will explain:
Health NGO’s and the WHO lobbied heavily in India, citing terribly erroneous and completely unfounded “claims” from Sweden on “snus” to get all historical, current and future types of smokeless tobacco blanket banned across India. This also includes banning even the theoretical possibility of Indian Smokeless users switching to a product like Swedish “snus” for nicotine, with virtually no health risk at all.
Of course no one in Swedish “Tobacco Control” disagreed as banning smokeless is very high on the Swedish agenda for the international community, and to hell with the consequences! We generally avoid mentioning that half of all tobacco used in Sweden is “snus” and statistically causes precisely 0% of tobacco related disease in Sweden. This is due to the very simple and demonstrable fact that “Snus” has health risks so low that any residual risk simply cannot be differentiated from not using tobacco/nicotine at all.
This was very bad news for Indian consumers of smokeless formulations of course, but it also was very bad news for smokers and for tax revenue. 155 million or so smokers in India are now barred from choosing virtually harmless smokeless tobacco (not gutka/paan/masala and others, they are quite dangerous) like snus to replace their lethal smoking habit, if they can’t or won’t quit entirely. The last option is of course always the best by light-years, but is only an attractive option for a minority.
This trend has been incredibly successful and over 200 million Indians are now faced with three choices for their nicotine: Quit, start smoking, or buy from the black market. Electronic cigarettes (vaping) is only a viable option for the middle class and up, who can afford them, but India is doing the best she can to ban this also as you can read below.
That will leave only cigarettes and bidis as commercially available nicotine products in a country with well over 300 million tobacco users. Lovely!
The action with smokeless blanket bans in India has been hugely successful! Unparalleled even! It has been so incredibly successful that local governments are now being forced to drastically lower sales taxes on cigarettes to increase sales and replace the tax revenue lost from banning smokeless products.
Is that not wonderfully fantastic? Thank you Sweden for helping India solve her tobacco problem in such a decisive, goal oriented and rational way.
Anti-tobacco activists in India supporting a ban on e-cigarettes: a position endangering public health
By Dr Farsalinos
Some surprising statements from Indian anti-tobacco activists were published few days ago in local media. One of them, dean of a local Dental College, called e-cigarettes “the evil twin of cigarettes” and said that “Banning e-cigarettes at this stage is like nipping an evil in the bud”. Another one, director of a Public Health Institute said: “E-cigarettes, despite containing liquid nicotine, were being promoted as harmless and non-addictive. However, laboratory analysis proved all these claims to be wrong. They show that users of e-cigarettes were also exposed to carcinogenic chemicals”.
If this is the stance and position of scientists who are fighting the smoking epidemic, imagine the level of misinformation in the general public. India is a country where smoking and harmful tobacco use is thriving. The WHO GATS study found that 34.6% of adults use some form of tobacco, while about 1 million Indians die annually from smoking-associated disease (2010 data). For countries with high prevalence of smoking and harmful smokeless tobacco use (unfortunately snus is virtually non-existent in India), e-cigarettes should be considered a golden opportunity to reduce harm in a cost-effective manner. Instead of seeing public health authorities and the scientific community welcoming e-cigarettes and encouraging their use by properly educating consumers, we observe a campaign of misinformation and demonization of nicotine, ignoring that the basic purpose of public health is to reduce disease and death. The focus on nicotine is misleading because in reality none has ever died from nicotine dependence; disease and death is associated with the vehicle used to deliver nicotine. E-cigarettes are currently the strongest competitors of tobacco, and it is hard to understand why anti-tobacco activists are supporting a product used to substitute (i.e. reduce) smoking.
Furthermore, such statements represent an indirect endorsement of tobacco cigarettes. In fact, it is a paradox to strongly support bans on e-cigarettes while at the same time tobacco cigarettes are available everywhere. Providing a competitive advantage to tobacco cigarettes in terms of availability and accessibility is in direct opposition to the true purpose and goals of these activists. Perhaps they do not see it, but they end up supporting tobacco cigarettes and other harmful forms of tobacco; this is the definition of public health harm.
I urge public health officials and anti-tobacco activists to become open-minded, be informed on the true aspects of e-cigarette use and potential to serve as a harm reduction product and provide proper and reliable education to the society concerning these products. This is a historic opportunity for countries like India to significantly reduce the burden of smoking-related morbidity and mortality. It would be a fatal mistake (literally) to miss this opportunity.
Note. Prof Michael Siegel has also written an interesting comment about this story in his blog.