Silicon Valley-based VC fund Metaform Ventures is investing $2 Mn in its India Center of Excellence to conduct research on tobacco cessation and harm reduction, with a focus on smokeless tobacco (SLT) products like jarda, ghutka, khaini, etc.
The objective of the research is to provide hard empirical data and evidence to encourage new harm reduction tools, cessation techniques and products for a tobacco-free India.
According to Metaform Ventures, use of smokeless tobacco accounts for 90% of oral cancers in India, which amounts to about 300K deaths a year.
Led by an angel investor and serial entrepreneur Nilesh Jain, Metaform Ventures has made investments in multiple Indian startups including healthtech startup Clinivantage Healthcare, delivery logistics company HeyDeeDee, edtech startup Xplorabox, cleantech company Log9 Materials and smart home automation startup Picostone.
“Innovative thinking and profound changes within this sector can contribute significantly to public health. Leading new research, supported by government-led policy interventions, can help deploy technology options to reduce risks and transform core SLT products,” said Nilesh.
Further, the data generated through this research is said to help regulators and product innovators, along with creating capacity for independent research in India. The research will also provide users with more options to choose from, thereby motivating them to move towards safer options and reduced harm.
Tobacco Regulations In India
This development comes on the heels of India announcing a ban on all operations around e-cigarettes and vapes in the country. This includes a ban on “production, manufacturing, import/export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertising related to e-cigarettes,” finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in a press conference last week.
Sitharaman cited uncertain health risks and the increasing use of vapes, e-cigarettes and ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) as the reason for this ban.
“Banning e-cigarettes while more harmful traditional bidis and cigarettes are allowed to be sold is contradictory. It is like banning a less harmful nicotine delivery system while allowing more harmful ones free market availability. This is fundamentally unsustainable as policy or a public health imperative or even in law and consumer rights,” Praveen Rickhy, convener of an ecigarette lobby group called Trade Representatives of ENDS (TRENDS) had said earlier in a media statement.
According to the World Health Organisation, India had 266.8 Mn tobacco users and people exposed to secondhand smoke in 2018 in the $12 Bn cigarette market.