“We are hopeful the nearly decade long Liberal-led Government’s open warfare on safer nicotine products will end under Australia’s new Labor-led Government,” says Nancy Loucas, Executive Co-ordinator of CAPHRA (Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates).
“Former Health Minister Greg Hunt and his Cabinet colleagues oversaw a failed ‘quit or die’ approach on tobacco control. Subsequently, Australia’s overall smoking rate has budged little while comparative countries have enjoyed considerable success. To save thousands of Australian lives every year, the new government must urgently adopt a totally different strategy,” says Ms Loucas.
CAPHRA says Australia’s hard-line anti-vaping approach is increasing out of step with other Asia Pacific countries. A priority for the new government and next Health Minister must be to support a Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) approach, including the regulated availability of safer alternatives for smokers.
It is illegal to sell, supply or possess nicotine vaping products, with Australia the only Western democracy that requires a nicotine prescription to vape.
Last October, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) expanded its prescription-only model with customs clamping down at the border on the likes of personal imports of nicotine vaping liquids from overseas websites.
Since then, official information has revealed nearly 70,000 vaping products have been seized by the TGA under the Customs Act, with thousands of products also seized under warrant and by state governments. Millions of dollars’ worth of fines have also been issued to Australians, as well as thousands of formal warnings.
“Precious federal and state resource needs to be urgently redirected to catching bad people, not stinging good Australians just trying to quit smoking. The health authorities claim they’re cracking down on ‘dangerous products’ yet vaping is scientifically deemed 95% less harmful than cigarettes which remain freely available on many street corners,” says Ms Loucas
While vaping is now commonly viewed as the world’s most effective smoking cessation tool, Australia continues to witness over 20,000 smokers dying prematurely from smoking-related illnesses, with 2.3 million Australian’s still smoking.
Australian THR expert Dr Colin Mendelsohn recently described last decade’s national smoking strategy as an ‘embarrassing failure’. A target of 10% adult daily smoking was set for 2018, but only 13.8% was achieved. He believes without vaping readily accessible to adult smokers, Australia’s 10% target will be missed again.
To make matters worse, the Department of Health’s Draft National Smoking Strategy 2022 – 2030 proposes additional measures to prevent smokers from switching to safer nicotine products.
CAPHRA says despite ongoing claims in Australia that vaping is an on-ramp to smoking, the opposite is happening in New Zealand, where statistics categorically prove vaping is an off-ramp to smoking. CAPHRA also points out that despite ongoing scaremongering about nicotine, it’s addictive but not deadly – unlike the poisons from combustible cigarettes.
New Zealand has adopted a relatively progressive THR approach with vaping products available only to adults in convenience and specialist retail shops.
“Australia’s new Labor Government needs to talk to New Zealand’s Labour Government as New Zealand’s overall daily smoking rate has nearly halved in the past decade. It’s now in single figures, with New Zealand set to achieve Smokefree 2025 where just 5% or less smoke,” she says.
CAPHRA notes that nearly 70 countries have adopted regulatory frameworks on safer nicotine products. All of them have since reported a dramatic decline in smoking prevalence.
The Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand are poised to lift their failed vaping bans, which will see Australia lag further in the Asia Pacific region when it comes to adopting tobacco control policies that work.
“Here’s an opportunity for the new Australian Government to save lives thousands of lives in its first term of office alone by simply following best practice and growing international evidence,” says Nancy Loucas.