E-Cigarettes Awareness, Use and Harm Perceptions in Modern Society


E-cigarettes have been a topic of controversy after the rise in a number of deaths related to its consumption. The Indian Government has Cabinet approved Promulgation of the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement) Ordinance, 2019.

  • The Ordinance states that the production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale (including online sale), distribution or advertisement (including online advertisement) of e-cigarettes shall be a cognizable offence.
  • It shall be punishable with an imprisonment of up to 1 year/fine up to Rs. 1 lakh or both for the first offence; and imprisonment of up to 3 years and fine up to Rs. 5 lakh for a subsequent offence.
  • Storage of electronic-cigarettes shall also be punishable with imprisonment up to 6 months or fine up to Rs 50,000 or both.

What are E-Cigarettes:

  • Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a solution of nicotine and different flavours to create an aerosol, which is then inhaled. Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) includes a battery, an atomiser and a cartridge, which contains liquid nicotine, propylene glycol and flavours to attract kids and youth. It aims to provide a similar sensation of inhaling tobacco smoke.
  • E-cigarettes are the most common type of ENDS, with over 460 different brands and more than 7,700 flavours marketed in India.
  • A misconception in society that these cigarettes are free of nicotine also contributed to their appeal. In reality, the tobacco industry, which was suffering huge losses due to reduced tobacco use, developed such products to hold on to customers who would have otherwise quit.
  • Research suggests that many youngsters, who would otherwise have never started using nicotine, took up conventional smoking after being introduced to e-cigarettes.

Are they less harmful than Cigarettes?

  • The companies selling ENDS have marketed these products as a safer & less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes. Some even claim that these devices helped in the reduction of smoking.
  • Several studies have indicated that smokers who use e-cigarettes are less, not more, likely to quit smoking. In fact, most of them become ‘dual users’, continuing to smoke cigarettes while also taking to e-cigarettes. This makes them vulnerable to added health risks.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report released in 2014 on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, stated that, “Although nicotine itself is not a carcinogen, it may function as a tumor promoter. Nicotine seems involved in fundamental aspects of the biology of malignant diseases, as well as of neurodegeneration”.

Harmful effects of e-cigarettes:                                     

  • It is hazardous during pregnancy as most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive and toxic to developing fetus.
  • Nicotine exposure can also harm adolescent brain development.
  • E-cigarette expose the lungs to different substances. Dicetyl, present in e-cigarettes can cause “popcorn lung,” a severe and irreversible lung disease.
  • The aerosol contains solvents, flavorings, and toxicants, which is either “harmful” or “potentially harmful.”
  • Continued use of nicotine increases the risk of consumption of other drugs, such as cocaine, by the person.
  • Second-hand smoking (Passive smoking) is not eliminated by e-cigarette, as inhaling and exhaling them releases carcinogenic emissions.

Steps Ahead:

  • The ban by the Indian Government will hopefully result in a reduction of consumption of ENDS products.
  • There is also a greater need for spreading awareness about the harmful effects of e-cigarettes among the people.

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