Report on public hearing of e-cigarette inquiry
The first public hearing for the federal parliamentary inquiry into e-cigarettes was held today at Parliament House in Sydney. Witnesses were Dr Alex Wodak, Dr Attila Danko, A/Prof Colin Mendelsohn and Dr Sandra Costigan, a toxicologist from Nicoventures, the e-cigarette subsidiary of British American Tobacco.
We were told that Professor Simon Chapman and the TGA refused to attend because a representative of the Tobacco Industry was present. This was very disappointing as we would have like the opportunity to discuss Professor Chapman’s views on e-cigarettes in person. He has also previously declined to participate in a public debate with us.
The *parliamentary committee gave a very fair hearing and asked many questions to clarify the issues around e-cigarettes. They are clearly approaching the inquiry with an open mind and are wanting to genuinely understand the issues. There was interest in taking a medicinal approach to nicotine which requires a prescription (as opposed to a consumer approach). However, the witnesses were unanimous in rejecting that proposal.
A challenging issue to resolve
The committee has a very difficult job. There is one body of evidence and two opposing expert interpretations. The problem is that views on e-cigarettes are as much about ideology, entrenched beliefs and biases as they are about the evidence. The ideology of tobacco control for the last 50 years has been the complete elimination of addiction, nicotine and tobacco companies. Tobacco harm reduction is not part of that view.
The reality is that a large proportion of smokers are simply unable or unwilling to quit and remain at high risk and many of these are disadvantaged members of the community. We can’t just sacrifice these people. Millions are switching to e-cigarettes, with substantial health benefits.
The challenge for the committee is to peel off the layers of ideology and biases and find the underlying evidence. We need to keep focussed on the main goal, which is to reduce the death and disease caused by smoking.
We need to weigh the huge public health benefit of e-cigarettes against the potential risks to children taking up smoking, risk of renormalising the act of smoking and undermining tobacco control, for which the UK Royal College of England says there is currently no evidence after 10 years of use.
We now have enough information to proceed with making e-cigarettes with nicotine legally available while monitoring the outcomes as have many other similar countries. There is a very high cost to public health in waiting longer.
I will post the Hansard from the meeting once it is prepared.
By the way, there are many other submissions to the inquiry which have not been published online. We were advised today that they will not appear for several weeks, until Parliament next sits.
Here are some news report about the hearing:
International Business Times. Health experts don't want to 'sacrifice' smokers, want them to switch to a healthier alternative
news.com: Doctors plead for e-cigarette reforms
sbs: Doctors plead for e-cigarette reforms
*Committee members present were chairman Trent Zimmerman (LNP), Dr Mike Freelander (ALP), Andrew Laming (LNP) and Tony Zappia (ALP). Other public hearings will be held, but details are not yet available.
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