Unlike most other countries, Australia’s smoking rate decline had stalled over recent years due to its opposition to vaping and the concept of tobacco harm reduction. While smokers were swapping cigarettes for vaping in other nations, costing health services nothing and improving their health, Australia stuck to its guns.
Expert Alex Wodak commented on the ban proposal: “I have been involved in drug harm-reduction debates in Australia since the early 1980s. Every new harm-reduction intervention met fierce resistance, often lasting years. This happened with methadone treatment for problem heroin users, needle syringe programs to slow the spread of HIV, and drug consumption rooms to reduce drug overdose deaths.”
“Each debate was nasty, personal and dishonest. The current debate about vaping unfortunately fits this pattern. Harm-reduction approaches eventually win because they are much more effective, safer and cheaper than the alternatives.”
The “experts” Hunt relies on are exemplified by The Australian Council on Smoking and Health. Chief Executive Maurice Swanson welcomed the initial ban news, and illustrated Wodak’s point on the dishonest nature of the ‘anti’ debate, saying: “The vast majority of Australia’s leading health and medical organisations also support the precautionary position, because that’s what the evidence tells us.
“Much of the lobbying, especially the coordinated attempts to erode Australia’s health protections, have been from the tobacco and e-cigarette industries and other groups whose sole interest is trying to make money from e-cigarettes. The Government’s response to the parliamentary inquiry prioritises public health over commercial interests and evidence over lobbying.”
Swanson quoted Terry Slevin, Chief Executive Officer of the Public Health Association of Australia, saying: “Pro e-cigarette claims were not supported by the evidence and our statutory authorities will review and advise on that evidence – not commercial interests. End of story.”
But this puritanical, ideologically-based unscientific denialism and ignorance was far from the end of story.
Harm reduction advocacy body ATHRA issued a call to arms: “For many, vaping was the only quitting aid that worked. They feel great, are saving money and are enjoying it. For many it is a lifesaver. Why is the government ignoring the scientific evidence? Vaping is the most popular and most effective quitting aid available and could save hundreds of thousands of Australian lives.”
“Now is the time to act. Let’s channel the anger into something productive.”
Colin Mendelsohn, Conjoint Associate Professor in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, called Swanson’s press release “embarrassing” and full of factual errors. “The evidence is very clear,” he said, “that vaping is more effective than other quitting aids and could significantly reduce Australia's smoking rate.”
Hunt’s initial plan lasted just as couple of days as politicians joined in with vapers and advocacy organisations to campaign against the ban. Twenty-eight Coalition MPs and senators had signed a petition opposing the ban by Thursday. Hunt issued a new press release on Friday.
Despite shifting the date, he was resolutely sticking to some of his nonsense: “Around the world we have seen strong evidence of non-smokers being introduced to nicotine through vaping for the first time.”
“The implementation timeframe will be extended by six months to 1 January 2021. This will give patients time to talk with the GP, discuss the best way to give up smoking, such as using other products including patches or sprays, and if still required, will be able to gain a prescription.”
He did manage to include one fact: “There is a … group of people who have been using these e-cigarettes with nicotine as a means to ending their cigarette smoking.”
“We’re pleased the Australian Minister of Health Greg Hunt has delayed by six months banning the importation of all e-cigarette products containing nicotine. Aussies now need to use this time to push for vaping regulation, as prohibition is a death sentence,” said Vaping Trade Association of New Zealand (VTANZ) spokesperson Jonathan Devery.
“So, if you can’t order overseas nicotine vapes online and it’s too hard to get a prescription, then you’ll just revert back to buying cigarettes. What a terrible public policy outcome that would be, but Aussies still have time to fight for their right to health.
“A local regulated market is how you stop dodgy imports and keep people off black market products. Blanket bans only drive it dangerously underground.”
VTANZ believes this delay offers up an opportunity: “Australian vapers and smokefree advocates should be encouraged by the latest delay, with MPs obviously waking up to the fact that pushing Australians back into smoking would be a dumb idea. Public pressure, however, must continue as tobacco tax revenue remains very seductive to the Australian Government.”
- “Vapers are rightfully angry, anxious and shocked. What can you do?”, ATHRA – [link]
- Australian Council on Smoking and Health press release – [link]
- Colin Mendelsohn’s responding comments – [link]
- Prescription Nicotine Based Vaping, Greg Hunt. –[link]
- “Why Australia should make it as easy as possible for smokers to switch to vaping”, Alex Wodak – [link]
- Vaping Trade Association of New Zealand – [link]