Last month, prior to the TGA’s interim decision, Colin Mendelsohn said: “Australian smokers will be denied access to life-saving technology estimated to have helped millions of smokers to quit overseas. Those most affected will be from lower socio-economic and disadvantaged groups, which have the highest smoking rates and are hardest hit by the cost of smoking.”
It has been estimated that if current Australian smokers switched to vaping they could stand to be in the region of £4,000 better off. Given that the bulk of smokers are the poorest in society, this saving would have a disproportionate benefit and massively improve family lifestyles. It is being reported that smokers feeling the financial pinch are now going without meals in order to afford their packs of cigarettes – and some are now categorised as falling into poverty due to their addiction.
There is a discriminatory side to the TGA’s stance too: smoking rates in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities runs to around 40%. Any policy failing to accord vaping with a reduced harm status unfairly victimises these people.
The heaviest smokers who have failed to quit with traditional methods are also feeling the squeeze from annual 12.5% price increases on tobacco cigarettes. Mendelsohn points out the obvious: “So, vaping is at least 85 per cent less expensive than smoking and 95 per cent safer. You will be richer and healthier if you make the switch to vaping. To me, that’s a no brainer.”
The body of 16 academics, health experts and researchers, to which Mendelsohn belongs, is convinced that the only reason for the TGA’s stance is one of ideology: “It's political, it's emotional, it's ideological - it's we've always done it this way. They are finding little problems in the research and are basically throwing smokers under the bus.”
Mendelsohn likened Australia’s attitude to vaping with the failing war on drugs, “prohibition doesn't work.” But, he contends, health advocates like Simon Chapman are so blinded by their hatred of tobacco companies that they can’t see the value of reduced harm to the general public.
He adds: “If they change over to a safer product, that's win for everyone. They can save their businesses, keep their shareholders happy, but also billions of lives are saved. It's extraordinary they exempt the most lethal consumer product ever invented, but they criminalise people who want to use low concentration nicotine in e-cig for harm reduction.”
Imperial College London’s David Nutt, says the TGA’s position is “perplexing and disturbing”. He added: “No explanation for this inexplicable preferential treatment for the cigarette supply chain is offered, and, in our view, no justification is possible. Millions of Europeans report that they have used e-cigarettes to quit smoking. Why do authorities in Australia wish to deny that option to Australians?”
The TGA is due to make a final decision on March 23.