Regular readers will know that I am Chairman on Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA). The organization has been lobbying for three years to legalise vaping in Australia so that the death and illness toll from smoking can be reduced.

It is no secret that in the 1980’s Australia led the world in reducing smoking rates but that over the last decade virtually no progress has been made. Quit rates are falling faster in the UK, USA, EU and Japan to name a few jurisdictions – where tobacco harm reduction is supported.

New Zealand has legalised vaping and its ministry of health is now promoting it as a way for smokers to get off cigarettes. The UK has previously gone down this path with considerable effect.

Due to ideology, not science, Australia has not supported smokers wanting to reduce harm by switching to vaping. It is claimed that we don’t know enough about the long-term effects of vaping. After close to 20 years we know 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.

We also know that there may be close to 500,000 people in Australia who vape! These people almost universally report improvements in how they feel after making the switch.

In June a move to effectively ban vaping was deferred after considerable community outrage and a petition launched by two government backbenchers.  Another senate inquiry has been called and submissions are due by November 5 2020.

The top three issues the committee will examine are:

  1. the treatment of nicotine vaping products (electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) in developed countries similar to Australia (such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the European Union and United States), including but not limited to legislative and regulatory frameworks;
  2. the impact nicotine vaping products have had on smoking rates in these countries, and the aggregate population health impacts of these changes in nicotine consumption;
  3. the established evidence on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation treatment;

I would urge anyone who smokes or vapes or who knows someone who has tried to quit but can’t to make a submission. Real world evidence matters. The academics in big public health who never leave their latte circle world have no knowledge or interest in what works in the real world – but politicians who rely on voters do.

The current proposal to take effect on January 1 would require someone who wants to vape to visit their doctor. The doctor would have to make an application to the Federal Government to prescribe nicotine liquid for vaping. If approval is granted, the person will need a second visit to get the prescription. They will then need to find a pharmacy that will dispense the liquid.

Meanwhile any person over the age of 18 can buy cigarettes at a supermarket or host of other outlets. Nicotine can be purchased as gums, patches or sprays also at a variety of outlets (some including supermarkets) without prescription! The policy if introduced will see either increased rates of smoking, or force people to the black market.

The solution is simple. New Zealand has adopted a regulatory framework which makes it no harder for people to access the less harmful option to cigarettes. Australia can adapt this without re-inventing the wheel.

Ideologues claim vaping is a big tobacco conspiracy and those who support it are big tobacco stooges.  Following that logic, Jacinda Ardern the NZ Prime Minister must be in the pocket of big tobacco. Draw your own conclusions about the validity of the line pushed by anti-vaping ideologues.

The current senate inquiry presents a real opportunity for Australia to get into the 21st century with regards tobacco harm reduction. There are no guarantees in life, but hopefully sense will finally prevail.