Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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The consumer has evolved in very diverse ways, today with numerous avenues to decide what will matter the most particularly when it comes to choose. It is clear that the lockdown has had a significant influence on people’s daily lives as the world slowly transitions from managing the COVID-19 crisis to recovery and the reopening of economies. Consumer behaviour will change during this time of contagion, self-isolation, and economic instability, maybe for years to come. However, consumer behaviour will evolve based on the consumer’s right to choose whether to purchase a product without having that decision governed or ruled upon, their right to know the nature of the product, and their right to not have that option taken away from them.

When it comes to the right to choose, the sheer availability of cigarettes brings under the scanner the harm and subsequent effects of smoking.

Every person deserves the right to be able to select a product that is not detrimental, and this right transcends the authority of any legislative body to control such choices. The Economic Times Consumer Freedom Conclave sought to engage intellectuals in delivering their thoughts on giving their views on notion of consumer freedom as the act of being able to make that conscious choice and the freedom to do so. A series of conversations for consumer freedom with the intent of not limiting consumer choices but also protecting the customer. The thought leadership platform to push the narrative around consumer choice highlighting the need for progressive regulations to be based on science rather than blanket bans.

As a part of the thought leaders give us further insight into the way forward from the domain of digital and social media and looks closely at a scientific approach to tobacco harm reduction. Suhel Seth, Managing Partner, Counselage India and Dr. Kiran Melkote, Orthopaedic surgeon based in Delhi, India and member of AHRER – Association for Harm Reduction, Education and Research share their views on products and services that are pulled into bans that are not based on scientific reasons.

Suhel Seth believes that a lot of products and services such as cryptocurrencies mobile apps even wheat and many others being subjected to blanket bans which seem to be heavy on ideology but weak on research how can consumer rights and policies as a general practice become more rooted in scientific findings and broadly speaking become more evidence based.

Suhel emphasises that the consumer should be aware of, “Their rights, the product awareness in terms of substantive value both in terms of efficacy as well as in terms of value for money, and lastly, it must not be violate any medical or any clinical or any  social malpractice, such as buying clothes which are hand-stitched by children who are in forced labor.” “Today, technology is improving and cryptocurrency and blockchain are new platforms, simply banning is illogical.”

“Policy must be made available in terms of both transparency and clarity and it must ensure that the consumer is aware of what he or she is getting into. The law must be efficacious and it must be easy to interpret and it must be easy to enforce. Consumer freedom is guaranteed but consumer freedom is also not a fundamental right and never should be.

Harm reduction refers to the policies, the programs and the practices that aim to minimize the negative societal impacts associated with substance abuse.”

Dr. Melkote explores the very notion harm reduction as a pragmatic recognition that everything under the sun including our choices is made towards mitigating risks. “Mitigating the harms of substance abuse is the soul or the core objective of public health it’s to save lives right and if you apply the same thing to smoking, and overall use of tobacco this would appear to be logical and obvious. If you can take the harm out of the back to use that would benefit society so the concept of tobacco harm reduction is extremely simple the need for nicotine is why a person continues to use tobacco despite the associated harness but nicotine on its own is not carcinogenic and it’s far sparse.

Internationally, nations have embraced vaping they’ve embraced e-cigarettes as part of their national tobacco control programs and it has paid rich dividends but many other countries have also taken the opposite youth notably our own.” “Essentially, vaping and e-cigarettes far safer than combustible tobacco but they’ve been demonized repeatedly so much so that they are seen as much more dangerous.”

At the end of the day, consumers, policy makers and the medical fraternity should have a free flow of information and education while will make choices in the future. Free choice but free choice can’t be unregulated choice.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members