Two top Indian scientists have asked the central government to formulate a policy that can help people to quit smoking by providing them significantly safer options, ahead of the 7th Conference of Parties meeting of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC).
In a letter to Union Health and Family Welfare Minister J.P. Nadda, the two scientists -- R.N. Sharan of the Department of Biochemistry, North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), and M. Siddiqi, Chairman of Cancer Foundation of India -- have urged him to favour policies that are facilitary rather than obstructive to smoking cessation environment by providing high quality and safe options to smokers in their effort to quit smoking.
‘E-cigarettes offer a safer and effective way of meeting the physiological demands of nicotine to smokers to help quit or cut down smoking significantly.’
The two scientists said countries like Britain, the US, France, and Malaysia, where e-cigarette are relatively freely available, the number of cigarette smokers has declined. Enabling access to such less harmful products in India would likely support public health objectives and reduce the burden of smoking-related health issues.
Sharan and Siddqi also believed that stopping the use of harmful tobacco products can be achieved in India with a combination of approaches since India has huge diversity of cultures and traditions.
"Thus, in India we need to apply, as a policy, nicotine replacement therapy supported by advocacy and where possible, psychological support, for it to work effectively," Siddqi and Sharan said in their letter to Nadda.
"The Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), more popularly known as e-cigarettes, offer a safer and effective way of meeting the physiological demands of nicotine to smokers to help quit or cut down smoking significantly," they added.
The 7th Conference of Parties, which is being held for the first time in India, will bring together the WHO FCTC's 180 Parties -- which include almost every country in the world, as well as regional economic integration organisations like the European Union.
It is the first occasion that a Conference of Parties meeting is being held in India and signals a strong and generous commitment of the Indian government to increase international co-operation and awareness of the WHO FCTC globally and especially in the WHO South-East Asia Region.
The Conference of Parties meetings, jointly organised by the Indian government and the Convention Secretariat, will take place at the India Expo Centre & Mart in Delhi. COP7 will be held from November 7 to 12. According to the WHO, some one billion people smoke, resulting in about six million deaths annually.
More than one million Indians reportedly die annually because of smoking, making it the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable diseases (NCD) in the country. "It is well documented that India is severely affected by an epidemic of tobacco associated cancers due to the use of a variety tobacco products (cigarettes, bidis, hukkas, gutkas) and their equally dangerous alternatives containing areca nuts," the two scientists stated in their letter.
"Our systematic meta-analysis of published literature compares the health and safety aspects of vaping using ENDS with smoking conventional cigarettes. We find that ENDS have minimum health and safety concerns compared to the high risks associated with conventional cigarettes," said Sharan, Professor at NEHU.
"Although some gaps remain to be filled by further research, our study conclusively establishes that ENDS offers smokers a far safer alternative way to consume nicotine, which itself is relatively harmless," he added."Using a multi-criteria risk analysis approach with conservative criteria weighting, we find that ENDS are an effective option to quit conventional cigarette smoking," Sharan noted.
The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products is an international treaty to address the increasing illegal trade in tobacco products. Based on Article 15 of the FCTC, it was adopted in November 2012 and currently has 13 Parties.
FCTC, the first international treaty to be agreed under the WHO's auspices, entered into force in 2005. It has successfully helped to co-ordinate and energise the global struggle against tobacco.
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the Convention's governing body and is comprised of all 180 Parties. It regularly reviews the implementation of the Convention and takes action to promote its effectiveness.