The Greens have relaunched their drug policy, with party members approving Richard Di Natale’s proposed changes at their national conference in Perth this weekend.
The new policy drops the blanket opposition to legalization and calls for the establishment of “an independent drug regulatory authority to develop evidence-based and continuously evaluated policies and programs to reduce harms.”
The Greens should be commended for their stated commitment to an evidence-based approach. But harm reduction has long been the centrepiece of the Greens’ drug policy, and yet they have aggressively opposed e-cigarettes, despite a Public Health England report finding that e-cigarettes are 95 percent safer than smoking.
NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham made headlines in 2015 when he operated an e-cigarette in the upper house chamber of the NSW Parliament. The stunt was an attempt to drum up support for tougher laws, with the party stating, “The Greens believe e-cigarettes should be treated like real cigarettes, with the same regulations, restrictions and prohibitions.”
Likewise, in Victoria, Greens MPs were vocal supporters of new laws that treat e-cigarettes the same as traditional tobacco products, including placing bans on public use in all non-smoking areas, including outdoor dining areas from mid-2017.
Speaking on the Victorian legislation, Greens MP Colleen Hartland argued for increased regulation as a “precautionary approach” to a products that “risks being both harmful and addictive” (before noting the lack of any evidence of harm).
This is the exact opposite of an evidence-based approach. They are treating e-cigarettes as a dangerous and addictive product, despite no evidence to support that view.
The harms caused by smoking are already well established, and the available evidence shows e-cigarettes are an overwhelmingly safer alternative.
Nicotine is addictive. But the Victorian regulations apply to all e-cigarettes, not just e-cigarettes that contain nicotine (which already require a prescription to be bought legally, despite nicotine itself being no more harmful to health than caffeine).
This makes it significantly harder for smokers to switch to nicotine-laden e-cigarettes, despite them being a proven way for people to quit smoking.
The previously mentioned Public Health England report, found that e-cigarettes “have quickly become the most common aid that smokers in England use to help them stop smoking.”
These findings are the reason the Royal College of Physicians has called for e-cigarettes (and other non-tobacco nicotine products) to be widely promoted as an alternative to smoking. As their 2016 report, Nicotine without smoke, states “Large-scale substitution of e-cigarettes, or other non-tobacco nicotine products, for tobacco smoking has the potential to prevent almost all the harm from smoking in society.”
If the Greens were truly committed to a harm reduction, evidence-based approach to drug policy, they would be embracing e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking, not pushing tougher regulations designed to discourage their use.