Vaping has been officially illegal in Australia since the Therapeutic Goods Administration classified it as a poison. A group of 70 Australian experts have signed a letter to the National Health and Medical Research Council, urging it to open a review to look at all of the latest evidence. Also, Dr. Marita Hefler, from the Menzies School of Health, has called for immediate action following the recent Harvard study (covered in another POTV feature this week).
Professor Colin Mendelsohn explained the background to the expert letter: “E-cigarettes are being used by smokers and ex-smokers as a less harmful alternative to an existing consumer product, combustible tobacco, that prematurely kills up to two thirds of its long-term users.”
He continued: “The science on e-cigarettes has evolved substantially since the NHMRC did its previous review, so it is time to look at what the latest research tells us about their potential for reducing tobacco-related death and disease in Australia.”
As well as ignoring the wealth of supportive studies that has underpinned the seismic shift in attitudes towards vaping in Great Britain, Australia’s opposition to ecigs has been part of a stall in their attack on smoking. The rate of smoking has plummeted in both the USA and GB, but has not declined significantly within Oz’s smokers for the last three years.
Dr Alex Wodak said: "E-cigarettes appear to be contributing to the faster decline in smoking rates in other countries where they are freely available."
Hefler’s solution is as radical as it is understandable; she argues that the nation should embrace alternatives to smoking while, at the same time, banning the original product entirely: “Any other consumer product that kills up to two-thirds of its long-term users remaining legal is unimaginable.”
The doctor sees the development of vaping as triggering this possibility: “Even if the political will had existed for a sales ban, until recently, no products could match the nicotine delivery efficiency of combustible tobacco with substantially less harm, rendering a sales ban a non-viable option due to the risk of a black market.”
While some would argue that smokers deserve a right to choose, there is no questioning her logic that vaping has progressed to a level that it now offers a genuine workable alternative to smoking-related disease. Products that, as she says, “while not harmless, they are almost certainly lower risk than cigarettes for current smokers.”
The question left is then, as Clive Bates recently posed, “Is Australia falling behind on tobacco policy?” And, if they are, as we believe them to be, do they have the wherewithal to do something positive about it?
Speaking about his impending visit to the country, Clive Bates writes: “In the longer run, almost everyone is open to arguments and evidence – and many Australia experts already see the issues as set out above. It would only take one or two influential leaders to see the issue differently, and things could move rapidly (as they did in the UK, after they eventually saw the risks with mandatory medicines regulation).”
The noise being made in favour of a shift of attitudes is becoming deafening, surely Australia can’t hold out to common sense for much longer?