Australia Confusing Masses With Vaping Policy
Australia’s federal government is playing a confusing game with vaping and its attitude towards it, all while putting smokers’ lives at risk in the process.
News.com.au is reporting that the government took less than one minute to both declare it would stand by its ban on vaping as well as announce a parliamentary inquiry into reviewing that ban, which will be led by one of the ruling party’s own MPs.
The legislative double-cross comes after the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, received a letter, in writing, from over 100 international experts, including doctors, scientists and researchers, begging him to reconsider the ban and allow vaping to become legal in the country. The letter focused on the fact that vape products are life-saving devices and can lead to a reduction of premature deaths caused by smoking.
The country is currently home to 2.6 million smokers; it is estimated that two-thirds of them will die from smoking.
Vaping, in contrast to traditional tobacco products, is 95 percent less harmful than smoking. It is also an effective smoking cessation method that when used properly, could lead to saving the lives of nearly half of Australian smokers if they all switched to vaping.
For a more pragmatic view aimed at the government, think about the cost: smoking is currently costing Australia between $12 billion and $30 billion a year in healthcare costs and lost productivity; that is, the amount of time workers take time off of work due to illness or disease relating to smoking; premature death also contributes to that number.
So if the Australian government chose to take vaping seriously, they could save potentially a million lives and billions of taxpayer dollars all with a reversal of the ban they have instituted.
Vaping with liquids that contain nicotine, however, is still illegal in Australia, a subject that will be covered later in this article. For now, it’s important to know that the ban came from a ruling by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which states on their website that:
“Nicotine is classified by law as a dangerous poison. States and territories have responsibility for regulating dangerous poisons. In all states and territories, the retail sale of nicotine is an offence unless a permit has been issued by the relevant state or territory authority.”
The declaration of nicotine as a poison, even in vape liquids, is an interesting position for the government to take, considering that the UK, the US, the European Union and New Zealand currently allow vape products with nicotine to be sold in their open markets or are moving towards the legalization process. This move comes from the dozens of reports and studies that show that vaping is less harmful than smoking.
However, the Australian government currently classifies nicotine as a Schedule 6 poison, and even tiny concentrations of the substance, including the amounts found in vape liquids, must be banned for the sake of public health.
But tobacco products, which contain not only nicotine but other toxins and carcinogens, are freely sold in convenience stores and supermarkets across the country. There are few, if any, restrictions on the sale and possession of these products, even though they are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the country every year.
A Letter to the Government
Fortunately for Australians, doctors and scientists were not happy with the initial ban on vaping and wrote to Prime Minister Turnbull to express their dissatisfaction.
Around 140 doctors, scientists, researchers and experts from all over the world wrote a letter to PM Turnbull, asking his government to review the ban and include multiple international studies that have shown the efficacy of vaping as a smoking cessation method.
Signatories on the letter included toxicologists, molecular biologists, cardiologists, and more; experts represented Oxford University, Yale University, King’s College London, John Hopkins University, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the UK Royal Society of Physicians, which has released a variety of studies attesting to the advantages of having vaping offered to smokers.
The letter reads, in part: “The available evidence suggests that the potential risks from Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems [ENDS] are relatively small and can be minimised with sensible regulation. Furthermore, modelling studies using conservative estimates have shown there is a substantial net public health benefit from the use of ENDS.”
It goes on to state: “We regret that Australia is increasingly out-of-step with other countries in this regard… We therefore strongly encourage a prompt reclassification by legislation of low concentrations of nicotine for vaping as a consumer product.”
In the six weeks it took to get a reply from the Australian government, it is estimated that some 1,800 people could have died from a smoking-related illness in the country.
News.com.au inquired about a reply only to be referred to Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie, who released a statement that supported the ban.
“After consideration of the available scientific information and the extensive public submissions for nicotine, the TGA’s final decision on this application was there should be no change in regulations…the effect of this final decision is that the commercial supply of nicotine for use in e-cigarettes will remain prohibited in Australia under state and territory legislation.”
The Government Intervenes
The statement from Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie was accompanied less than one minute later with a press release from the chair of the Parliament’s Health, Aged Care and Sport Committee Trent Zimmerman, a Liberal member who represents North Sydney, who announced the inquiry into the law, following a referral from Gillespie’s boss, Health Minister Greg Hunt, a member of the ruling party.
The release, which is titled “E-Cigarette Inquiry Commences,” will focus on reviewing the current vape laws and reads:
“The Inquiry will investigate the health impacts of e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers, as well as their marketing and use as an aid for people attempting to quit smoking. The Committee will also consider the appropriate regulatory framework for these products in Australia.”
The statement also recognized that vape products were available in Europe and North America and acknowledged that it will look to international policies already in place to measure potential new legislation to alter or revise the current ban that is in place.
In 2015, the National Health and Medical Research Council issued a statement, which can be read in full here, about vaping. Its conclusion reads:
“There is currently insufficient evidence to conclude whether e-cigarettes can benefit smokers in quitting, or about the extent of their potential harms. It is recommended that health authorities act to minimise harm until evidence of safety, quality and efficacy can be produced. NHMRC is currently funding research into the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation.
NHMRC advises consumers to seek further information about e-cigarettes from reliable sources, such as the relevant State or Territory Health Department or their general practitioner.”
But the truth is far more complicated than that: in Australia, each state and territory have their own rules on vaping. These are often misrepresented by state health departments and other governing health bodies to discourage vaping, all while simultaneously allowing traditional tobacco products to be sold without any repercussions.
For example, in all of Australia, it is illegal to use vape liquid with nicotine inside it; however, if someone has a prescription for vape liquid that includes nicotine, they can use it. In Queensland, people can be fined for possessing nicotine, including nicotine in liquid form. How one would know if a liquid contains nicotine is debatable, but it could be seen as a tactic to stop Australians from vaping at all.
Australia is at war with itself over vaping legislation. Although nearly all of the studies done on vaping show that it is demonstrably safer than smoking and has the potential to save lives, the country still bans it.
With the news that an inquiry is to take place, it is hoped that Australians will have a fair and unbiased investigation into vaping, one that hopefully will result in an altered ban or a reversal of the ban entirely. Only then can Australia see the benefits that vaping has to offer.