Can Vaping be legalized in BD?

The recent craze of E-cigarettes (also known as Vapes) created hype among Bangladeshi youth. The use of electronic cigarettes, commonly called vaping has gained its popularity among conventional cigarette smokers all around the world who are willing to quit. According to a recent study conducted by UCL[1], vaping helped 18 thousand people to quit smoking. Every year 2.5 lac Bangladeshis die due to tobacco and the rate of death is 28 per hour, according to a report of World Health Organization (WHO). With such an alarming figure, it is surprising to learn that Bangladesh is a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The country has established laws that regulate smoking, but little is being implemented. 

As a safer alternative, vaping has been considered to be 95% less harmful than smoking by Public Health England.[2] It’s high time Bangladeshi laws permit this revolutionary alternative in order to minimize the death toll caused by the slow poison—cigarettes.

What is E-Cigarette or Vape?

The Electronic Cigarette is a device that is battery-powered to produce inhaled doses of nicotine by way of a vaporized solution. It makes use of a rechargeable battery that powers a heating element (coil). The E-Liquid (more on E-Liquid further on) comes in contact with the coil and is then vaporized. E-liquid (street name Juice) is the liquid that is used to vaporize. E-Liquid typically contains Vegetable Glycerine, Propylene Glycol, Nicotine and Flavouring.[3]

The vaping fraternity in Bangladesh is at a very premature stage. The number of vape users (hereby ‘vapers’) as of 2017 is approximately more than 15 thousand.[4] Statistics show this number is increasing rapidly, as demand rises in vaping shops of Dhaka.

Vaping scenario in Bangladesh:

The rising demand of e liquids among vapers created business opportunity for many. These ‘vape lounges’ around Dhanmondi or Gulshan area makes Sheesha lounges a trend of the past. Vapers of different ages gather in these cozy lounges to buy their desired e-liquids or to spend some time away from their busy life. 

There are about 20 vape shops around Dhaka which cater the needs of the city’s vaping population. The owners strictly maintain the age restriction while selling vaping products. Every vaping shop has a notice that prohibits anyone under 18 to enter. One of these shops has signs hanging on the wall stating ‘Stop Smoking, Start Vaping’ or ‘Switch to Vaping for a Healthier life!’

The Bangladeshi vaping community has a vibrant online presence. Facebook groups provide a platform for buying and selling vaping devices, personal suggestions and experiences. Vendors of e liquids get to enlist themselves in the group to prove authenticity and customer feedbacks. They promote their products and offer discounts. Expert Vapers get to advice others while Ex Smokers share their new found lifestyle. Many share their day to day experiences about vaping. 

One such occurrence happened to Hriduanur Hridoy, a regular vaper. On 21st April 2017, around 12 pm in the Dhaka’s Uttarkhan area, police searched Mr. Hridoy and recovered his vaping device. He was being called a drug addict and faced harassment on a broad day light for 30 minutes straight. Mr. Hridoy’s father was called to the scene. He was not given any opportunity to defend himself and his vaping device was confiscated. The police seized Mr. Hridoy’s ‘Smok H Priv 220W’ vaping device, 2 AWT Batteries and one Kayfun v5 Tank, altogether worth around 10 thousand taka, in the name of chemical testing. The aftermath of the event left Mr. Hridoy with mild depression which in turn led him back to smoking.

Situation of Vapers in Dhaka:

The fact that the vaping community is still unknown to many, not everyone is seeing it in a positive manner. While cigarette smokers enjoy puffing anywhere they want to, despite the strict laws, vapers face many obstacles. Most of us care enough to expose ourselves to passive smoking than speaking up. The Police hardly bat an eye to any one smoking publicly, even though the law imposes Tk.300 fine for such offenders.[5] According to experiences shared by regular vapers in Dhaka, the following are the most common:

·        Since vaping produces a thick cloud of vapour, doing it in the streets causes passersby to become alarmed.

·        Vaping while travelling by rickshaw attracts a lot of angry stares by annoyed passengers.

·        Passive vaping do not irritate the lungs. Still the clouds psychologically triggers anyone around to cough and show their anger.

·        Regular cigarette smokers usually discourage vapers by claiming it less useful for curbing nicotine cravings.

·        Most vapers feel unsafe carrying their vaping devices with them. The reason being fear of police misunderstanding it as a weapon.

·        Harassment at shopping mall security scanners.

·        Not allowing vaping devices to be carried in airplanes.

Does the law say anything about this?

The Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act, 2005 is the only Act that regulates tobacco usage in Bangladesh. It was amended by the Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) (Amendment) Act, 2013. The Act covers a wide range of areas, such as tobacco advertising, promotion etc. The Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Rules, 2015 was enacted to further implement the existing provisions. Another law which is contained in the Railways Act, 1890 regulates smoking in train compartments. There is a specialized act for youth smokers known as the Juvenile Smoking Act 1919 which defines ‘cigarettes’ as cut tobacco rolled up in paper, tobacco leaf or other material in such form as to be capable of immediate use for smoking.

Can Vaping be legalized in Bangladesh?

These established laws do not state anything about vaping or electronic cigarettes. It is understandable since most of the laws were enacted before the vape hype arrived in Bangladesh. So, it can be rightly said that possessing a vaping device or consuming it does not breach any provisions, regarding Bangladeshi laws. Hence, arresting a person for vaping or confiscating vaping devices is not only unlawful but is in direct violation of fundamental human rights.

The practice of vaping may be brought under the law, not to make it unlawful, but to regulate it. Sale of products associated with vaping, limiting nicotine levels and authorizing vendors can be regulated by enacting a new law. This way, vapers may be protected under the legal framework of the country. Smokers willing to quit may also be encouraged and switch to vaping. The rising death rate can only be minimized if smoking laws are made stricter while vaping laws, relaxed.

[1] UCL website ‘E-cigarettes may have helped 18,000 people quit smoking in 2015’ [available at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0916/130916-e-cigarettes-may-have-helped-18000-people-quit-smoking-in-2015#sthash.citsjg3B.dpuf%5D

[2] Shipton M, BlacAm P (2016), ‘The great vape debate: Should e-cigs be banned in indoor public places?’ [available on: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/news-opinion/great-vape-debate-should-e-10711554%5D

[3] GuideToVaping.com ‘Vaping Guide: How to Vape- Best Vape Mod’ [available at: http://guidetovaping.com/vaping-guide/%5D

[4] The number of members at a popular facebook group ‘Vapers Den Bangladesh’. [https://www.facebook.com/groups/vapersden/?ref=br_rs]

[5] Bdnews24.com, ‘Tk 300 fine for public smoking’ [available on: http://bdnews24.com/health/2013/04/29/tk-300-fine-for-public-smoking1%5D