Posted on July 8, 2023 By Colin
INTERNAL CONFIDENTIAL EMAILS from the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ANACAD) have blown Australia’s prohibition policy on vaping out of the water.
The Council advises the Health Minister confidentially, but emails released under Freedom of Information in the Sydney Morning Herald by journalist Natassia Chrysanthos [document here] reveal the view that current government vaping policy has predictably created a dangerous black market and increased youth vaping. Mr Butler’s ban to crack down harder with further bans is the wrong approach. As one expert stated
Further restrictions will likely only make the problem worse and we’ll end up criminalising more people. Regulation that is too severe risks making smoking more attractive
The solution suggested is
Sensibly balancing reduction of access and uptake among children and young people with increasing access for adults who want to stop smoking
Interview with Rebecca Lang, ANACAD member
Vaping advocates have been making the same argument for several years but have been ignored. Recently 44 leading Australian and New Zealand tobacco control and addiction experts wrote an open letter to the Minister providing the same information and asking him to reconsider his draconian proposal. We also published a peer-reviewed paper on regulation along the same lines.
Now Mr Butler’s own expert committee is telling him the same thing.
Mr Butler has been getting the wrong advice from the AMA, Cancer Council, PHAA and RACGP and from his own bureaucrats. It is time for policy making in this area to be guided by evidence, not “values, ideology, politics and opinions”.
Furthermore, the Council notes that "the media and others have exaggerated the prevalence and harms of vaping among young people contrary to the evidence”. Articles in the media ““definitely trending towards a drug panic kind of coverage that leans towards the ‘won’t someone think of the children’ tone.”
The stakes are serious. Australia’s smoking rate has declined only 8% in the last 4 years, compared to 39% in New Zealand, 18% in the US and 16% in England where vaping is readily available to adult smokers. To continue to ignore the evidence will have a serious negative impact on public health.
The discussion by the peak committee experts is a primer in Regulation 101 and should guide Australian policy on vaping, just as it has in other western countries. In their own words:
“We know that reducing access to things that are desirable just results in a black market or people using/developing more dangerous substances”
“The entirely predictable result that the nicotine on the unregulated market is now more available and potent than that in the regulated one and is being sold to people who should not have access”
“At least part of the blame for the relative ease with which young people can access sweet flavoured vapes that contain nicotine can be attributed to the prohibitionist choice of the last Health Minister to limit nicotine liquids to prescription only”
“Doubling down on regulation and enforcement (despite the problem being a failure of regulation in the first place)” is the wrong response
“Further restrictions will likely only make the problem worse and we’ll end up criminalising more people”
“Sensibly balancing reduction of access and uptake among children and young people with increasing access for adults who want to stop smoking. Regulation that is too severe risks making smoking more attractive”
“Measures to reduce access by young people should not inadvertently put barriers up for adults who want to use nicotine vapes”
“The focus should be on safe supply to adults who prefer vaping to smoking, which should be encouraged, rather than on enforcement”
“Making vaping products more available for adults is likely to reduce the black market and have little impact on prevalence or incidence of use”
“The ‘gateway’ theory of drug use has been abandoned for other drugs and there’s no reason it should be applied to vaping. There’s no evidence that vaping results in young people who are not at risk of smoking tobacco to take up smoking”
“We should encourage the TGA to ensure an evidence based policy. We want to avoid making policy driven by unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence or selective interpretations of the data”
“The thinking worth challenging (in my view) is that smoking cessation can only validly occur under the guidance of a medical professional (when the fact is loads of people stop smoking without reference to a medical professional)”
“We should be taking a harm reduction approach to vaping as with all drugs which aligns to the NDS [National Drug Strategy]”
“Harm reduction (in certain circumstances) potential of vaping is not in dispute – hence the availability for the purposes of smoking cessation”
“Border control efforts with other illicit drugs is hugely costly with, typically, very little impact on the black market and virtually no impact on use”
“There is evidence that flavours that appeal to smokers encourage uptake of vaping instead of smoking among adults. Flavours would need to be part of the pre market assessment for safety. Again, banning anything tends to increase the black market and possibly even experiments with home mixing of flavours so it is better to make them available and control quality, safety and access. Having said that… Any hazardous ingredients not required should be banned”
“There is no obvious need to introduce plain packaging at the moment or provide additional warning labels”
Freedom of Information from ANACAD
Open letter from 44 leading tobacco control and addiction experts to Mr Butler, 1 June 2023
Interview with Rebecca Lang, ANACAD member on 2GB, 4 July 2023