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Mission Harm Reduction: Embracing Innovations and New Global Regulatory Insights to Save Lives


The Economic Times Consumer Freedom Conclave highlights the need for aligning Tobacco Harm Reduction laws with global best practices and new research

MUMBAI, India, Dec. 8, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — India’s tobacco harm reduction (THR) mission to save lives has received a big boost with the Government’s plan to include Nicotine Replacement Therapy products (NRT) in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM). Harm reduction assumes critical urgency against the backdrop of tobacco addiction reaching pandemic levels. With tobacco harm reduction emerging as one of the top national priorities, The Times Group via ET Edge, India’s largest media conglomerate, held a power-packed panel discussion as part of its 6th Edition of Consumer Freedom Conclave on the theme of ‘Mission Harm Reduction: Embracing Innovations and New Global Regulatory Insights To Save Lives.’

Over 200 million people use smokeless tobacco like khaini and gutka, 72 million smoke beedis and 28 million consume cigarettes, making India the world’s second-largest tobacco consumer. This tobacco addiction is estimated to cause about 1.3 million deaths annually in our country. The economic costs arising out of addiction-induced diseases are put at $27.5 billion.

The forum seeks to promote consumer choices and freedom, highlighting the need for progressive regulations based on science and consumer insights. The conclave reaches out to scientists, medical practitioners, regulators, legal luminaries and other key stakeholders to draw a progressive Consumer Regulation Framework to combat tobacco harm, adopt global best practices – and Save Lives.

The panel discussion saw participation from eminent regulatory voices, legal and medical expert including Dr K Madan Gopal, Senior Consultant (Health), NITI Aayog, Dr Kiran Melkote, Orthopaedic Surgeon and Member of the Association for Harm Reduction, Education & Research (AHRER), and Upendra N Sharma, Partner, JSA Advocates & Solicitors. The eminent panel debated on the need for more regulatory reforms; and incentives for India Inc and start-ups to promote healthcare innovations. The discussion also focused on the need to review the ban on e-cigarettes; and on the inclusion of new vaping laws under the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) – in light of the emerging global regulatory regime.

Highlighting the Government’s commendable tobacco harm reduction initiative, Dr. K. Madan Gopal, Senior Consultant (Health), NITI Aayog, said, “The government is conscious of the fact about the (nicotine) replacement options. The fact that product nicotine has found its place on the Essential Medicines List means that the government is not averse to having a replacement option. For people who are addicted to tobacco, at least some (safer) option is made available to them.” He added that the combined effect of public awareness, regulation and compliance is delivering desired outcomes, “A lot many activities are happening in the country and after we have banned the tobacco use in public places, now, you don’t see people smoking in the public places. As for chalaan for smoking cigarettes in public places, it is negligible as compared to reduction which has happened.”

Dr. Kiran Melkote, Orthopaedic Surgeon and Member of the Association for Harm Reduction, Education & Research (AHRER), called for the inclusion of new vaping laws under the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) in light of emerging global regulatory regime and said, “In our neighbourhood, Pakistan is light years ahead in terms of embracing harm reduction, with new kind of snus and nicotine pouch options. The Philippines too has just passed a new bill that calls for risk proportionate regulation: So the more risky the product, the most stringent the laws related. They have made the distinction between vaping and smoking with separate vaping areas where nobody can smoke (thereby protecting consumers from second-hand tobacco smoke). In India, if you look at this banning (of e-cigarettes), we had absolutely no success with that. It is right there on the ground, it’s available to everybody (in the grey market without any regulatory or quality compliance). The best thing that we can do is start adding it to our National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) and start regulating it.”

Dr. Melkote added that India should be open to new research and evidence on e-cigarettes: “There is now a global consensus that these are quite safer than cigarettes. The UK will become the first country in the world to start giving patients, prescribing patients, vaping devices through the National Health Service (NHS). They have embraced tobacco harm reduction as a major way to reduce the burden of tobacco on all citizens. And wherever it has been legalized – as in Japan, the UK, and New Zealand – the youth smoking rates have plummeted. So, all these fears about it being a Gateway product is not really borne out in the real world.”

Commenting on the need to make safer alternatives available to consumers, Upendra N Sharma, Partner, JSA Advocates & Solicitors said: “Safer Alternatives usually come from Innovative technologies and new upgrades in the technology — and these are very difficult for any regulator to handle. When a new technology comes, it changes the status quo and promises great potential for the future – and at the same time, hidden discrepancies or defaults could follow. So, the regulator can either have a multistake-holder consultative process to evaluate the technology and then come up with a solution or have a knee-jerk reaction to banning it. Countries like the UK and Canada have well-established medical systems but one of the reasons (for progressive regulation) was sheer colossal health issues due to regular tobacco smoking. They opted for the safer options and the safer options are always a good choice and the government should look into that.” He added, “It’s nobody’s case that vaping is harmless. Vaping is 95% less harmful – and the consumer should be given a chance for lesser harmful substitutes.”

The panel leaders discussed the need for regulatory reforms and incentives to draw start-ups and India Inc to the potential of innovative products for harm reduction. There was a broader consensus on the need for building new capacities and capabilities in healthcare and regulation to save lives. 

For more information on The Economic Times Consumer Freedom Conclave, please visit the website here,  

About ET Edge

Times Strategic Solutions Ltd., functional under the brand name ET Edge, is an Economic Times initiative founded to empower multiple industries and segments by sharing critical business knowledge through strategic conferences and summits. Encompassing the Indian business vista, ET Edge strives to bring together visionaries and key leaders on its knowledge platforms to create social and business ecology conducive to the positive changes required by the industry. The main aim of this initiative is to channel global business intelligence through summits and conferences in overarching lectures, hands-on workshops, panels, roundtables and case studies. The forums ensure senior decision makers are equipped with information and networks to respond to challenges they face not just in India but also globally. Launched in 2013, it made its foray through domestic conferences. It has now steadily moved into new formats not just covering knowledge sharing platforms such as conferences but also includes exhibitions, community building and more across physical and digital arenas.


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