Vaping is far from harmless 


As the world continues to wage war on tobacco products and its consumptions, vaping and other nicotine alternatives are not contributing much to counter the crisis. In September 2019, the Government of India introduced the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Act to protect its young population from the harms of electronic-cigarettes. It has been three years since the ban came into force following directives issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, GoI. 

The country’s apex medical regulatory agency, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), through its white paper on e-cigarettes (also known as electronic cigarettes or vapes) released on May 31, 2019 called for a complete ban on Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS) or e-cigarettes. The white paper pointed out that ENDS contain highly addictive nicotine solutions, as well as other ingredients such as flavouring agents and vaporizers that are harmful to health and can cause adverse effects on humans which include DNA damage; carcinogenesis; cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity; respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders and adverse impact on foetal development and pregnancy.

Though the long-term impact of e-cigarettes is still unknown, other studies have reportedly shown serious lung injuries and adverse health effects associated with their use. In a journal called ‘the e-cigarettes ban in India: an important public health decision’ published by The Lancet Public Health in August 2020, it explains that beyond the issue of nicotine addiction, the ingredients used in flavouring agents and additive agents, like propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, can also be harmful for health. When heated, these additive agents can produce various compounds, including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, which are carcinogenic to humans.

The commemoration of International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking 2023 brought the harmful effects of vaping to forefront. Many are speaking out that vaping has become a gateway to smoking. According to World Health Organization, susceptibility to e-cigarette use among young people is a major public health concern due to the adverse health effects of nicotine on the developing brain and potential negative outcomes from other chemicals present in the devices.

A new generation is getting obsessed with e-cigarettes and fancy nicotine alternatives products. Touted as a harmless recreational activity on social media, educators and parents are raising alarm on the growing popularity of vaping among school children. In this age of hastag (#) it has become much easier to find contents and items on the internet. With a smartphone and some key hastags, social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter can lead the users to the product anywhere in the globe. Movies and OTT serials are also widely glamourising vaping and e-cigarettes to make it look desirable. For parents and educators, all these factors have escalated their apprehension as the adolescent’s developing brains may suffer lifelong adverse effects from nicotine-containing products.

As part of a national study initiative titled ‘Ideas for an Addiction-Free India’, the Think Change Forum has made effort to decode the issue of escalating addiction among adolescents with discussions focused on prevention as a key strategy to curtail substance abuse. Think Change Forum has earlier released findings from its research programme to uncover new trends in substance abuse among adolescents. Stressing on rising threat of addiction among children, mothers and women experts have communicated that the trend of vaping is a matter of grave concern as they are being positioned as cool and safer by the tobacco industry. 

Recommending early intervention programmes to tackle rising cases of new dangerous habits like vaping, Dr Sudheendra Huddar, Addiction Psychiatrist, Dharwad Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences has observed given how the brain works in adolescent or young children, they seek novelty seeking behaviour, influenced by peer pressure which is absolutely not abnormal. ‘Hence, it is crucial to address the issue early, particularly for adolescents engaging in substances like vaping, as early intervention can reduce the likelihood of developing substance use dependencies.’ For parents, Think Change Forum findings suggest, they ensure the children understand the dangers and harmful effects associated with experimenting with products like vaping and e-cigarettes.

Actions are required from health authorities and law regulators, and also from educators and parents. A mechanism needs to be worked out to improve surveillance and monitor content on the internet; restrict advertisements, movies and OTT serials encouraging these products; impose strict law to prevent easy access to e-cigarettes; early intervention programme in schools and creating more awareness among young people with the support and involvement of the parents and health experts. 

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