ABC radio. E-cigarette ban has advocates fuming

Posted by DrMendelsohn on 10 April, 2017

The Hack.JPGColin appeared on The Hack on ABC radio station JJJ, for a discussion about e-cigarettes, on 10 April.

Click here to hear the interview

Below is the online version of the story by producer Sarah McVeigh. Click here to read it on the Hack website.

Sarah McVeigh.jpgE-cigarette ban has advocates fuming

A decision by Australia’s drug regulator to maintain a ban on e-cigarettes has created a curious alliance between harm minimisation advocates and big tobacco companies.

E-cigarettes are battery operated devices that heat liquid nicotine into a mist to be vaporized. It is widely agreed they are likely to be less harmful than smoking cigarettes and are often used as an aid to quit smoking.

Last year, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) received an application to re-schedule nicotine, so it could be purchased in liquid form legally. After months of consultation, the TGA has decided against any changes.

“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,” it said in a statement.

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 Australian Medical Association, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Cancer Council have supported the decision, which puts Australia at odds with several comparable countries, including New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Dr Alex Wodak, described the TGAs ruling as “very biased”.

“The TGA’s decision is remarkably deficient in so many areas,” he said.

“They have made a lot of emphasis about possible risks of e-cigarettes - and of course there are risks, they are generally small risks and very uncertain - but they completely ignored the potential benefits which are much larger and much more likely.”

Can e-cigarettes help you quit smoking?

Rates of smoking have been declining in Australia for decades.

According to the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, around 13 per cent of Australians are daily smokers. In 1991, that figure was 25 per cent.

Tobacco treatment specialist and Associate Professor at the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine Colin Mendelsohn believes along with counselling, e-cigarettes can help people quit.

“We know that there a millions of people internationally who have quit with e-cigarettes and I really believe we can accelerate that decline,” he told Hack.

According to 2016 research published in the Society for the Study of Addiction, more than 6 million people in the European Union have quit smoking and a further 9.2 million had reduced smoking with the help of e-cigarettes.

The Royal College of Physicians in the UK says e-cigarettes “appear to be effective” as an aid to quitting smoking.

“In the interests of public health it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes, nicotine replacement therapy and other non-tobacco nicotine products,” it said in a statement.

But the World Health Organisation says “the scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of [e-cigarettes with and without nicotine] as a smoking cessation aid is scant and of low certainty, making it difficult to draw credible inferences.”

Last week, National Health and Medical Research Council released a statement saying it is currently funding a number of studies to determine the safety and efficacy (ability to help people quit) of e-cigarettes.

Dr Colin Mendelsohn says it’s unsurprising the evidence is not yet complete, given e-cigarettes were only developed in 2003.

“Like any new product we haven’t got 30 years of experience,” he said.

But based on what we know about what’s in the vapour, experts agree they are likely to be much safer than smoking.”

According to the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 1 in 7 (14.8%) smokers aged 14 or older had used battery-operated electronic cigarettes in the last 12 months. That figure is expected to increase and big tobacco is taking notice.

Tobacco company goes "smoke-free"

The world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris International (PMI), has announced it is going smoke-free.
“We’re investing to make these products the Philip Morris icons of the future,” the company said on its website.
The vision is contained in the company’s 2016 annual report.

“In these changing times, we’ve set a new course for the company. We’re going to lead a full-scale effort to ensure that smokefree products replace cigarettes to the benefit of adult smokers, society, our company and our shareholders.”

The report shows that the volume of cigarettes sold declined by 4.1% globally in 2016 but that demand for the company’s e-cigarette products is growing. For example, PMI expects annual production of HeatSticks to increase from seven billion units in 2016 to 50 billion by the end of this year.

It’s a similar story at PMI’s competitor British American Tobacco who say they’re “committed to developing and selling potentially less risky alternatives to regular cigarettes” and report growth in their products.

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