Health experts lash e-cigs ban. The Australian
Article in the Australian 23 October 2017 [link]
Health experts attack Canberra’s opposition to sale of e-cigarettes
By Adam Creighton
Australian health experts and doctors have attacked the government’s opposition to permitting the sale of e-cigarettes, arguing their use can dramatically improve smokers’ health and does not encourage teenagers to take up smoking.
Health Minister Greg Hunt appeared last week to undermine a parliamentary inquiry exploring the consequences of legalising e-cigarettes, chaired by fellow Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman. “It’s not going to be happening on my watch,” Mr Hunt said.
The minister’s strongly expressed view was criticised by Coral Gartner, a health expert at University of Queensland, who said Mr Hunt’s “closed-minded” comments were “disappointing”.
“The Royal College of Physicians estimates that cigarettes are at least 20 times more harmful than nicotine vaping products,” Professor Gartner said.
Britain, the US, Canada and recently New Zealand have moved to make e-cigarettes — battery- powered devices that allow smoking without tobacco — available.
“Many tobacco control experts who are completely independent of the tobacco industry support a role for e-cigarettes, which can form part of a strategy to phase out the most harmful nicotine product, which is the tobacco cigarette,” Professor Gartner said.
Colin Mendelsohn, a tobacco control expert at the University of NSW, said the idea e-cigarettes led young people into smoking had been refuted by two leading studies in Britain and the US.
“They show e-cigarette use by young people is experimental, short-lived and causes little if any harm,” he said. “Meanwhile, excessive restrictions on e-cigarettes cost the lives of many adult smokers, who could be using these products to quit smoking,” he added.
Surveys suggest about 100,000 Australians already use e-cigarettes, but are not legally permitted to use nicotine with them.
Wayne Hall, director of the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research at the University of Queensland, said the government’s policy was “incoherent”.
“It is deeply ironic that governments who defend this policy on e-cigarettes are engaged in making medical cannabis available, in the absence of exactly the same sort of evidence that they demand of e-cigarettes, namely, demonstration of their safety and efficacy in randomised controlled clinical trials,” he said.
The New Zealand health ministry this month concluded that e-cigarettes were significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco, “but not completely harmless”. “Smokers switching to e-cigarettes are highly likely to reduce their health risks and for those around them,” it said.
“Nicotine by itself is, at very worst, a very weak carcinogen,” said Joe Kosterich, a Perth GP with a keen interest in smoking policy.
Mr Hunt was emphatic yesterday that the government’s position was based on the “clear advice” from the Australian Medical Association, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Department of Health.
“It is also supported by all states and territories, the commonwealth chief medical officer, and the chief health officers from all Australian states and territories,” he told The Australian. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has advocated e-cigarettes, however.
Dr Kosterich said Australian health bodies’ ideological opposition to the tobacco firms had led them into an internationally isolated position.
Cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris announced this month it wanted to stop selling cigarettes in Australia, alongside efforts by other global manufacturers to shift away from conventional cigarettes. “We permit heroin injecting rooms but not e-cigarettes,” Dr Kosterich said.
Government tax on conventional cigarettes is projected to swell from $11.2 billion to $15.2bn in 2020, according to the budget, the highest level per smoker in the world.
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