Indian Vaping Ban

When the Indian government introduced a ban on vape products at the back-end of 2019, overnight 120 million smokers were suddenly denied access to the world’s most effective stop-smoking aid.

The all-encompassing ban prohibits the production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage, and advertisement of e-cigarettes, and for those who fail to abide by the rules the punishments can be severe. 

For first-time offenders, a year in prison as well as a $1,400 fine potentially awaits, while those who break the rules on multiple occasions could get locked up for up to five years and face a $7,000 penalty, placing India’s vaping laws squarely among the world’s most draconian. 

After announcing the ban, India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, beamed “the decision was reached in order to protect the health of our citizens, of our young”. 

At the time, some pointed out that it was odd for a government official to announce the ban rather than the public health department, but things start to make a little more sense when you discover the Indian government owns a 28% stake in ITL, India’s largest tobacco manufacturer.

As the second-largest tobacco consumer in the world after China, business is booming for the Indian tobacco trade, and with the government owning a significant piece of the pie, plummeting sales would mean the evaporation of a very lucrative revenue stream.

Quite the conflict of interests, and what better way to boost profits than by simply removing the competition by banning e-cigarettes?

What Impact Has the Ban in India Had?

Despite the threat of severe punishments, since e-cigarettes were outlawed many of the country’s vapers have chosen to simply ignore the ban.

Furthermore, not only are many people still vaping, but among those who have chosen to abide by the law, predictably some have gone back to smoking combustible tobacco products.

Povaddo, a consultancy firm based in the U.S, recently carried out a study titled “Survey of Current & Former Smoke-Free Product Uses: India” in which 2,000 current or former legal-age smokers were asked a variety of questions relating to vaping and the ban on e-cigarettes in the country.

The results were telling.

Among those asked, almost 9 out of 10 said they believe e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products offer a healthier alternative to smoking. Around the same number of people said they also think vape products should be just as accessible as cigarettes and tobacco. 

Even more damaging to the Indian government’s anti-vaping stance was the revelation that over 8 out of 10 said they’d like to see the ban repealed, while a massive 92% of respondents who smoke said they’d consider using e-cigarettes to quit provided they were legal and the available products met adequate safety and quality standards.  

Add to that the fact the ban has made minimal difference with 85% continuing to use their vape devices, and it’s clear India’s vaping ban has been a monumental failure – unless of course the only goal all along was to encourage as many people as possible to sign their own death warrant by continuing to smoke, in which case it’s actually been a roaring success! 

Other Countries with Similar Laws in Place 

India isn’t the only country that’s chosen to outlaw e-cigarettes. Much of South America including Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Argentina and Uruguay has bans in place too, while a number of countries in Asia have also followed suit.

In Thailand, e-cigarette-users face some of the harshest punishments on the planet with those found breaking the rules facing up to 10 years in prison along with a 30,000 baht (£660) fine.

Many countries in the Arab world also dish out equally severe punishments, and failure to toe the line in places like Qatar or Oman could see you landing in some very hot water!

Tip: if you’re heading off somewhere abroad, with such disparity in vaping regulation around the world, you should always check the rules before you travel. You can also take a look at our Travelling & Vaping guide if you’d like to learn more about taking your e-cigarettes abroad.

What Impact Are Heavy Restrictions Having? 

We’ve already looked at the detrimental impact the vaping ban has had in India, but surely other countries taking a headline approach have had more success? Well, not exactly.

Although countries with prohibitive, anti-vaping measures in place have, by and large, seen smoking rates drop, they’ve fallen much slower in comparison to countries where e-cigarettes are being promoted as a harm reduction, smoking cessation tool.

If we take a look at the smoking rate in Thailand, we can see the number of people who identify as smokers has fallen by around 0.4% per year since the ban was introduced in 2014. Although those figures are no doubt positive, they could be much better (more on that in the next section).

For India, while no data on smoking rates has been released since the country’s vaping ban came into effect, a recent report puts the country among the worst on the planet when it comes to quit attempts.

Australia is another country that seems intent on doing its utmost to make access to vape products as difficult as possible. Already home to some of the most restrictive vaping laws in the world, towards the end of last year the Australian government decided to take things a step further by passing a new law which meant that anyone wanting to purchase vapes legally must be in possession of a prescription.

When we take a look at the statistics on Australia’s smoking rate, like those in Thailand and India they aren’t much to write home about. Indeed, from 2016-2021 the smoking rate fell from 12.8% to 10.7%, representing just a 0.42% average yearly decrease, which is dwarfed by the success seen by countries choosing to adopt harm reduction policies.

Smoking Rates in Pro-Vaping Countries 

A recent study carried out by Property Rights Alliance titled “Vaping Works. International Best Practices: United Kingdom, New Zealand, France and Canada”, demonstrated that countries opting for more progressive policies on electronic cigarettes saw their smoking rates decrease twice as fast as the global average.

Here in the UK where vaping products are sold freely and e-cigarettes are promoted as a relatively safe alternative to combustible tobacco, the smoking rate fell from 20% in 2011 to just 14% in 2019, which works out at 0.75% a year on average.

New Zealand has also enjoyed similar success since advocating e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. Similar to the approach taken by the British government, leaders in the Southwestern Pacific nation have chosen to go down the harm reduction route, using e-cigs as a way to encourage smokers to give up their deadly habit for a much safer alternative

Just like here in the UK, the strategy seems to be paying off with the number of smokers falling from 18.2% in 2011-2012 to 13.4% in 2019-2020, which equates to a 0.6% drop every 12 months. 

Across the board, countries taking a more progressive approach to vaping tend to see their smoking rates fall much faster compared to those implementing bans or heavy restrictions, and we can confidently attribute that success to free access to vape products.

How Black Market Fills the Vacuum

Even when we ignore how incredibly counterproductive vaping bans have been, there’s one very obvious reason why banning vape products won’t work: the blackmarket will always step in and fill the void.

Take one look at the history books and you’ll find numerous examples which prove that bans simply aren’t effective. Worse still, in many cases they actually drive up consumption.

Prohibition in the early-1920s is probably the most obvious example, as not only did this ban on alcohol fail to stop people from drinking, but it actually spawned the beginnings of organised crime and helped turn gangsters like Al Capone into millionaires practically overnight.

This time around, instead of moonshine it’s vaping products that are being prohibited, but the script is exactly the same: a government puts a ban in place, and while some will certainly abide by the law, inevitably others will feel it’s their right to use these products so they’ll go down illegal channels to get them.

The issue with this is these products are no longer regulated, so there’s no way of knowing what’s in them, where they come from and whether they’re safe to use. In most cases, the blackmarket cares about one thing and one thing only: turning a profit. 

In the UK all vape products must adhere to the stringent regulations set out by the EU, so provided you’re purchasing your e-liquid or vape device from a trusted, reputable seller (which you should always do) then you know the stuff you’re buying passes the proper safety and quality standards and is therefore safe to use.

But with their vape gear coming from the murky, unregulated blackmarket, how can people in places like India, Australia and Thailand be sure the products they’re using are safe? 

The answer is they can’t.

Why the “Teen Vaping Epidemic” Myth is to Blame 

The idea that there’s a vaping “epidemic” among youths is largely to blame for some countries choosing to ban or limit the use of vape products. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are continually warning that vapes are out to get kids hooked on nicotine which creates as a gateway to smoking – despite the fact that along with a decline in smoking rates, the number of teens vaping in 2021 dropped in both the UK and in the U.S.

Much of this misguided suspicion can be attributed to the outbreak of a mystery lung illness in the U.S a few years ago which killed a number of people – many of them teenagers. 

Although e-liquid was initially blamed, it was later established that contaminated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was actually responsible for the illnesses. Nevertheless, that didn’t prevent reactionary moves by the FDA and American government (the Trump administration at the time) calling for a complete ban on vaping, with the situation being labelled a “national youth vaping crisis”.

In the end, it wasn’t even e-liquids that were responsible, but the damage had already been done and despite a decrease in the number of youths vaping for two years running, these phantom issues are stoking fears and encouraging governments to ban vape products anyway. 

This prevents many people from quitting smoking, which only leads to more smoking-related illness and, ultimately, more preventable deaths.

So What’s the Takeaway?

Hopefully, after reading this post you now have a good understanding of vaping regulation and how it can and does impact smoking rates.

As we’ve seen, the evidence shows clearly that those imposing stricter regulations are seeing the number of smokers fall at a much slower rate than those which promote the use of e-cigarettes as a means to quit smoking. 

Considering that, regulating the sale of vape products and allowing people to purchase safe e-cigarettes and e-liquids in order to overcome their addiction to smoking would appear to be a real no-brainer – were it not for the misguided worries about vapes getting children hooked on nicotine. 

Sadly, rather than any “teen vaping epidemic” what we’re actually suffering from is a misinformation epidemic, perpetuated by the WHO which seems hell-bent on continuing its anti-scientific, anti-vaping witch hunt. Hopefully, over time, more and more surveys will provide a clearer perspective and further expose this lie for what it is.

For those keen to learn more about the impact e-cigs have on your body, check out our Vaping & Health Guide where you’ll find some useful information that’s both transparent and accurate.