E-cigarettes are relevant for every smoker in all the countries and science has shown that heated tobacco products are a much better choice than combustibles, said US-based tobacco giant Philip Morris which is eyeing the Indian market with over 100 million adult smokers.
Philip Morris International (PMI) is planning to shift its business from cigarettes to science-based smoke-free alternatives which, it says, aims to benefit people who smoke.
In India last year, the Health Ministry issued an advisory in August to all states and Union Territories to stop the manufacture, sale and import of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) following which 13 states have already banned e-cigarettes and Odisha and Haryana are planning to follow suit.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Global Forum on Nicotine in Poland where experts from around the world gathered to discuss safer use of nicotine, Tommaso Di Giovanni, Director Global Communications at Philip Morris International said it is the right of every smoker to have access to better alternatives.
"We know that the vast majority of people who smoke don't quit. It's a fact even the WHO says that by 2025, there will be approximately the same number of smokers worldwide," he said.
"So the question is, can we keep those people have better alternatives? Today? The answer is yes. Why should we not?" he told PTI in an interview.
"I think it's relevant for every country and for every smoker around the world. And it shouldn't be something that is only for some countries, some people and not others, everyone who smokes has the right, I would say, to get access to better alternatives and science has shown that heated tobacco products are a much better choice than cigarettes," he said.
However, a health ministry official in India said that several studies across the globe have stated that ENDS help initiate smoking among non-smokers as they deliver nicotine in an attractive way and attract the youth.
Also, doctors have stated that e-cigarettes also known as VAPES pose significant health risks to users, similar to those of traditional cigarettes, he added.
"There is very limited evidence on ENDS being helpful in tobacco smoking cessation or reduction in cigarette use," the official said.
Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), popularly called e-cigarettes, are battery-powered vaporisers that simulate the effects of smoking by providing some of the behavioral aspects of smoking, such as the hand-to-mouth action, without combusting tobacco in the process.
Presently, about 3 per cent of adults in India are aware about e-cigarettes and an estimated 0.02 per cent of the population use it.
Going tough on e-cigarettes, the health ministry has proposed to classify such alternative smoking devices as "drugs" under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, in a bid to ban their manufacture, sale, distribution and import.
Over the current scenario in India surrounding e-cigarettes, Giovanni said many other governments are supporting products like e cigarettes and heated tobacco products.
"And there's growing evidence that those products are much better than cigarettes for smokers," he said.
Moira Gilchrist, head of strategic and scientific communications at Philip Morris International, said the company has three very plain messages to pass.
PTI was among a select group of journalists the PMI had taken to Warsaw to cover the Global Forum on Nicotine.
"One is if you don't smoke, don't start which is absolutely key. If you do smoke, the best thing you can do is to quit altogether. But if you don't quit, then you should switch to a change to a smoke free alternative. Because the science shows today that a product like our heated tobacco protocols is a much better choice than continue to use cigarettes," she said.
Gilchrist further said there is a need to find a way using good regulation to solve concerns of the countries and make the products available to people who really deserve them.
According to WHO, more than 10 million people die each year due to tobacco use in India and there are about 120 million smokers in the country.
The Indian Council of Medical Research has recommended a "complete" ban on e-cigarettes, saying their use can initiate nicotine addiction among non-smokers, but the debate on its health impact is a continuing topic of discussion between experts.
In a white paper released recently, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said e-cigarettes 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.