It's only fair to share…

2020 has been an eventful year for all the wrong reasons. It was about to get worse when on June 19 draconian bans on vaping were announced and were due to start on July 1. Fortunately on June 26, following a massive community response saw the Federal Health Minister announce a delay in the introduction of regulations that would have exposed people who quit smoking by switching to a 95% less harmful (according to Public Health UK) option to a fine of $220,000.

Smoking combustible tobacco remains the biggest single cause of premature death in Australia. The Australian burden of disease study published last year estimated that in 2015 there were 20,933 deaths caused by smoking. This figure would not have gone down subsequently as sadly, smoking rates in Australia have barely declined since 2013. Yet in the UK, USA, EU and other jurisdictions smoking rates are declining.

What are most other countries doing that Australia is not? They have legalised and to varying degrees promoted vaping of nicotine liquid as a way to quit smoking. New Zealand last year also legalised it and are now promoting vaping.

Be in no doubt – despite what the public health figures say, Australia is the outlier. All the real world data and experience in multiple jurisdictions shows that vaping gets smokers off cigarettes and that it is not a gateway into smoking for youth. It is a gateway out of smoking for those who have tried tablets, patches, gums and spent hours on the phone to the quit line but still smoke.

It is estimated that there are 300,000 vapers in Australia. These people have been forced to import nicotine liquid from overseas as it cannot be bought here. From January 1 2021 (the delayed start date) this will be banned. It will be necessary to get a doctor’s prescription. However, you won’t leave the consultation with a prescription in your hand. The doctor will need to apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration(TGA) for permission to prescribe under the Special Access Scheme B (SAS-B).

But even if approval is granted it will be nigh on impossible to get the prescription filled. A medical importer will have to bring the liquid in.

As a practicing doctor I hear from patients who have tried desperately to quit and only managed to do so through vaping and how their health improved. Patient stories got me interested in this issue.

The 14% population smoking rate hides the fact the rates are close to 40% in Indigenous citizens and up to 80% in those with mental health problems such as schizophrenia. Rates are also high in prison populations, the homeless and single parents. They are low in what is sometimes described as the “goats cheese circle” of affluent suburbs.

Nicotine, which is what keeps people smoking, is not of itself a harmful substance and is not carcinogenic. Otherwise you could not buy it as chewing gum at supermarkets. The burning of tobacco liberates numerous harmful chemicals which leads to numerous cancers and other illnesses.

The public health lobby in Australia has adopted an ideological stance against vaping and dressed it up as a big tobacco conspiracy. Other countries do not. It is difficult to believe that the UK and NZ governments and the respective cancer councils in those countries have been “bought” by the tobacco industry.

It is claimed that we don’t know enough about the long-term effects of vaping. We know after close to 20 years that it is at least 95% less harmful than smoking. This figure is criticised by opponents of vaping but none have quoted a different figure.

The best substance for your lungs is fresh air. Anyone who does not vape should not take it up. Like alcohol and cigarettes, it is not for those under 18.

The best approach is to follow the path of New Zealand where it is no harder for smokers to obtain the less harmful alternative of vaping than to obtain cigarettes.

The looming tragedy is that these new regulations will see thousands of people go back to smoking cigarettes. Others will turn to the black market. Both are dreadful outcomes.

It does not have to be that way. The response from the community led to a significant number of politicians bringing pressure to bear on the health minister. In particular Senator Matt Canavan has called for legalisation. This could easily be adopted from the NZ or UK models.

There are now six months to ensure that a move which would cause ex-smokers to take up smoking again never comes to pass. There is time for Australia to catch up to the countries where vaping is supported and smokers are quitting in greater numbers.

Concerned citizens should continue to contact their Federal member to keep up the pressure.