UPSC MAINS 2019 : E-cigarettes pose public health risk, says ICMR

E-cigarettes pose public health risk, says ICMR

Topic : E-cigarettes pose public health risk, says ICMR

Topic in Syllabus : General Studies Paper 1: Indian Society – Health Issues



E-cigarettes pose public health risk, says ICMR

  • The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has warned of a potential public health disaster if action was not taken to completely prohibit and dissuade the use of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) or e-cigarettes given that the nicotine delivered by these devices adversely affect almost all systems in a human body.



An electronic cigarette is a battery-operated device that emits doses of vaporized nicotine, or non-nicotine solutions, for the user to inhale. It aims to provide a similar sensation to inhaling tobacco smoke, without the smoke.


Harmful effects

  • Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive and triggers changes in the adolescent brain. It is hazardous during pregnancy as it can affect fetal development.
  • The aerosol contains solvents, flavorings, and toxicants, which the Surgeon General describes as either “harmful” or “potentially harmful.”
  • E-cigarettes expose the lungs to different substances. One of these is dicetyl, which can cause”popcorn lung,” a severe and irreversible lung disease.
  • Potentially fatal poisoning has resulted from accidentally swallowing and from inhaling c-cigarette liquid.
  • People who seek to quit smoking will stop using conventional and medically monitored methods of doing so.
  • Those who use or who have used e-cigarettes are less likely to stop smoking altogether.
  • Teens who use e-cigarette products are more likely to start using regular tobacco as well.
  • Continued use of nicotine can make other drugs, such as cocaine, more pleasurable.
  • The flavorings, the marketing, and the concept that it is not harmful all tempt teenagers to start vaping. There is concern that this increases the chance that they will smoke conventional cigarettes later.
  • Second-hand smoking is not eliminated by vaping, as vaping releases carcinogenic emissions.
  • E-cigarette use adversely affects the cardiovascular system, impairs respiratory immune cell function and airways in a way similar to cigarette smoking and is responsible for severe respiratory disease.
  • It also poses risk to fetus, infant, and child brain development, the council noted in a white paper released here on Friday.
  • Use of e-cigarettes has documented 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.
  • Given the harmful health effects e-cigarettes pose to users, as well as passive exposure, failure to make appropriate interventions at the right time by bringing together all stakeholders under one umbrella to prevent this impending epidemic of e-cigarettes use could lead to a public health disaster in India.



  • There are more than 460 different e-cigarette brands with varying configurations of nicotine delivery available in the market, according to the ICMR.
  • Now, based on the currently available scientific data from multiple streams of research, the ICMR has recommended complete prohibition on ENDS or e-cigarettes in India in the greater interest of protecting public health.
  • Tobacco consumption, especially cigarette smoking, had shown a decline in India in recent years, this had been achieved through several tobacco control measures that had already been initiated.
  • Thus, at this juncture, marketing of a product like e-cigarettes, with unproven benefit and high potential harm from addiction and health risks, is unwarranted as a tobacco control measure.
  • E-cigarettes also open a gateway for new tobacco addiction, which is a potential threat to the country’s tobacco control laws and ongoing tobacco control programmes and efforts.


Why its hard to regulate them? 

As e-cigarettes contain nicotine and not tobacco, they do not fall within the ambit of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 (COTPA), which mandates stringent health warnings on the packaging and advertisements of tobacco products.


WHO report on e- cigarettes and effects:

  • As per the report, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) (also known as e-cigarettes) emits nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco products. In addition to dependence, nicotine can have adverse effects on the development of the foetus during pregnancy and may contribute to cardiovascular disease.
  • The WHO report further says that although nicotine itself is not a carcinogen, it may function as a “tumour promoter” and seems to be involved in the biology of malignant disease, as well as of neurodegeneration.
  • Foetal and adolescent nicotine exposure may have long-term consequences for brain development, potentially leading to learning and anxiety disorders.
  • The evidence is sufficient to warn children and adolescents, pregnant women, and women of reproductive age against ENDS use and nicotine.


Way ahead

Even if vaping can help people quit smoking, it has not been certified as safe and effective by the FDA, “nicotine in any form is a highly addictive drug.”

  • There is need for government to formulate necessary policies on ENDS of e-cigarettes and other such


Sample Question

What are E-cigarettes? What are the potential health risks involved by smoking them? Explain.



E-cigarettes pose public health risk, says ICMR infograph