Youth across the country are reporting limited use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and heated tobacco products (HTN) since their ban in 2019 in India. But they have noticed promotional activities for these products on Instagram, Whatsapp, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter.
These findings were revealed by a national survey conducted in February 2022 by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in collaboration with Chair on Consumer Law and Practice, National Law School India University to assess use, accessibility, and marketing exposure for E-Cigarette, Heated Tobacco products (HTN) and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) after these were banned in India September 2019.
A total of 4,049 young adults in the age group of 18-35 were engaged to understand their use of and access to these products since their effective ban in November 2019. 94% of respondents have never used e-cigarette or other ENDS. Only 4% reported using e-cigarette or other ENDS since the ban came into force. Those using the products said they are using e-cigarettes/HTN/ENDS products for social reasons (50%), followed by liking for the flavors (27%), and need to replace/reduce use of a tobacco product (24%).
Survey findings reveal that 26% of the respondents noticed some form of marketing on social media platforms which shows continued targeting of youth through these channels. Of the 26%, nearly 60% of them saw ads on Instagram, WhatsApp (22.6%), Facebook (17.3%), TikTok (14.3%), and Twitter (6.8%). In-person promotional events were noticed by 22.6%. The products are being sold and promoted as harm reduction products especially amongst youth, through social media, and web portals.
Commenting on the use of accessibility and marketing exposure for ENDS products, Ms. Vandana Shah, Regional Director, South Asia Program, CTFK said, “Countries around the world have been looking to India’s comprehensive ban on e-cigarettes/HTPs as a regulatory model but have expressed some skepticism about effectiveness. The results of this national survey are very encouraging with over 90% of youth reporting that they have never used these novel products. But continued vigilance is needed to safeguard youth from increased marketing through social media channels.”
According to the survey, Karnataka (38.1%) emerged as the most prominent state in terms of accessibility of these products followed by Maharashtra (12.4%), Tamil Nadu (9.3%), Uttar Pradesh (6.7%) and Kerala (6.5%). The prominent source of purchasing e-cigarette is paan shop or Indian online retailers despite these products being banned in the country.
“By banning these novel products in India, the intention of the government was clear to protect the youth from initiating use of these addictive products. The survey findings reiterate the need for stronger enforcement to check the availability of these banned products in India. Regular monitoring should be conducted of the advertising content on social media platforms. Offending companies should be held accountable and strict action should be taken against them to deter them from luring young impressionable minds,” said Prof (Dr) Ashok Patil, Professor of Law, National Law School of India University, Bangalore.
According to Mr. Arjun Singal, Student, National Law School of India University, Bangalore, “Students easily adopt things as fashion if they see something trending more in the social media. E-cigarettes are being sold and promoted through electronic platforms as students are major users of smartphones, computers, e-commerce, and social media. Students being vulnerable, are easily becoming victims to the conspiracies of tobacco companies. It is worrisome that despite the enactment of the E-cigarettes Act, we are seeing sale and promotion of e-cigarettes in the market including social media.”
In September 2019, the Indian government announced a complete ban on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), popularly referred to as electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, citing the potential health risks of e-cigarettes on the youth. The ban includes a complete ban on production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale (including online sale), distribution or advertising (including online advertising) of e-cigarettes. India is home to the second largest number of tobacco users (268 million) in the world, and of these 13 lakhs die every year from tobacco related diseases. 27% of all cancers in India are due to tobacco usage.
To arrive at these insights, data was collected through an online questionnaire using convenience sampling between January – February 2022. A total of 4,049 responses were collected from 23 National Law Universities, private law universities and colleges, student bar associations located throughout India. 92% of the respondents surveyed were in the age of 18-34 years, 80% between 18-24 years. 46% male and 51% of female participated in the study.