Posted on February 11, 2022 By Colin
The Australian Department of Health today released the draft National Tobacco Strategy, outlining the proposed tobacco policy for 2022-30. The Strategy takes a hostile view of vaping and tobacco harm reduction and aims to further restrict access for adult smokers.
The NTS perversely frames vaping as a threat to population health and tobacco control and proposes to ‘implement additional measures to further restrict the marketing, availability, and use of all e-cigarette components in Australia.’
Strict controls on tobacco smoking are appropriate to reduce the substantial risks that cigarettes pose to public health. However, the risks from vaping nicotine are considerably less. Regulations on vaping should be relaxed to reflect the much lower risk to consumers and to improve access for adult smokers.
The proposed policy is increasingly out-of-step with other western countries. For example, the UK and New Zealand recognise the benefits of vaping and encourage its uptake as a lifesaving alternative for adult smokers. In countries where vaping is legal and accessible such as the UK, New Zealand and US, vaping is resulting in accelerated declines in smoking rates.
The ‘primary focus and goal’ of the proposed regulations is to protect children and young people without any consideration of the lifesaving benefits of vaping for adult smokers. However, balanced regulations can support the needs of both groups, minimising access for young people while facilitating access for adult smokers.
The legislation in New Zealand aims to do just that, according to the former Assistant Health Minister, Jenny Salesa
"The Bill aims to strike the right balance between making sure vaping is available for smokers who want to use it as a quit tool for cigarettes while ensuring vaping products are not marketed or sold to children and young people"
If reducing smoking is a priority as the document states, it is counterproductive to undermine the most popular and most effective quitting aid available.
The reasons given for restricting vaping are 'the risks these products pose to tobacco control and population health.' These risks are said to be ‘the direct harms e-cigarettes pose to human health, their impacts on smoking initiation and cessation, uptake among youth and dual use with conventional tobacco products.’
However the evidence does not support these concerns:
Vaping is not risk-free but there is overwhelming scientific agreement that it is far less harmful than smoking. Smokers who switch to vaping are exposed to far fewer toxins and have improved health. There is no evidence so far of harm from vapour to bystanders.
Vaping is largely confined to smokers and ex-smokers and regular use by adults who have never smoked is rare.
In Australia in 2019, less than one in a hundred adult non-smokers vaped once or more in the previous twelve months. In most cases vaping by non-smokers is experimental and short-term, and rarely becomes regular use.
According to the New Zealand Ministry of Health
‘vaping products are attracting very few people who have never smoked into regular vaping, including young people.’
Vaping nicotine is a more effective quitting aid than nicotine replacement therapy and is far more popular. The most recent Cochrane review of randomised controlled trials found it was 50% more effective. Numerous real world studies also demonstrate that it is an effective quitting aid. The overall evidence shows vaping could help lower smoking rates in Australia.
Underage vaping is rare in Australia and frequent vaping is very rare, especially in non-smokers. Less than two per cent of Australian teenagers vaped once or more in 2019 and more than 90% had never tried vaping. Most use by non-smoking youth is experimental and short lived.
Rather than being a gateway into smoking, the overall evidence suggests that vaping is diverting young people away from smoking and reduces the risk of an adolescent becoming a smoker.
For most smokers, dual use is a transitional state leading to switching completely away from cigarettes. At any one time, a minority of vapers are also smoking, 41% in the US, 30% in Great Britain and 54% in Australia. Most dual users reduce their cigarette intake and are exposed to substantially fewer toxic chemicals.
It is very disappointing that the Department of Health continues to ignore the abundant evidence in favour of vaping. Their approach is misguided and unethical and will lead to many unnecessary, preventable Australian deaths.
You can make a submission to give your views before the final Strategy is prepared. Submissions can be made up to 24 March here.
Consultation Draft. National Tobacco Strategy 2022-2030