Indian vaping advocates will hold simultaneous protests around the country this Friday, Sept. 18, to mark one year since the Indian government banned the sales of vaping products. The event is being organized by the Association of Vapers India (AVI).
“We are bringing vapers together to raise our objection against the draconian ban by the government on September 18 last year,” said AVI Director Samrat Chowdhery in a statement. “Due to this arbitrary decision, efforts taken to promote harm reduction to reduce India’s tobacco health burden have been wasted. In our country, where nearly a million people die of smoking every year, it is important to promote risk reduction tools and sensitise people about them.”
The ban in India was announced last year on Sept. 18, and includes prohibitions on the sale, manufacture, import, export, and advertising of all vaping and heated tobacco products. Violations of the law can be punished with up to $7,000 fines and even prison time for repeat offenders. However, the law is widely ignored, and the country has a thriving black market.
“A year in, the folly of the vape ban is coming into sharp relief,” Chowdhery said. “The goal of protecting youth is anything but met as e-cigarettes are still available in the black market, putting them at greater risk as now there are no checks and balances to prevent teen access which regulation could have achieved. Bans have also not worked in other comparable nations such Mexico, Thailand and Brazil, so India’s failure comes as no surprise.”
In addition to his role as founder and Director of AVI, Chowdhery serves as a director at the Council for Harm Reduced Alternatives, another Indian organization. He is also the president of the board of directors at the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO). Chowdhery has written about the challenges vaping faces in India (before the ban) for Vaping360 and Filter.
Events will be held on Sept. 18 in many Indian cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Kolkata. An online rally will include vapers, former smokers, family members of ex-smokers, and global experts and advocates for low-risk nicotine products.
More than 110 million people smoke in India, and many others use dangerous oral products. Almost a million Indians die prematurely from tobacco-related illness each year. Widespread switching to vaping and safer smokeless tobacco like snus could save tens of millions of Indian lives in the future.
However, the country’s public health establishment is captive to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and the other Bloomberg Philanthropies-funded groups that dominate tobacco control strategy in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Organizations like The Union advocate for outright bans in these countries, because they say LMIC governments are incapable of implementing effective regulations.
A letter from AVI to all members of the Indian Parliament, intended to coincide with the Sept. 18 protests, addresses the “philanthro-colonialism” of the Bloomberg-backed groups directly, noting that “every single anti-vaping crusader or nonprofit in our country is linked to the same funding source,” and calling for resistance to outside pressure “so that India can develop independent, evidence-led thinking.”
The letter describes “ten critical flaws”—scientific, political and economic—that have doomed the ban to failure, and calls for Parliament to reconsider it, and to institute an expert panel to conduct an unbiased analysis of the legislation and potential frameworks for replacing the ban with sensible regulations.