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E-cigarettes, not prohibition, are the best way to reduce smoking

9 February 2017

1:22 PM

9 February 2017

1:22 PM

Anti-tobacco crusaders are becoming increasingly honest about their end goal of banning smoking, with the Cancer Council of Queensland calling for a total ban on tobacco sales to anyone born after 2001.

This will cause more harm than good. The Cancer Council should instead embrace new, safer alternative to smoking, like e-cigarettes.

The proposal was part of a survey released by the Cancer Council of Queensland this weekend. Chief executive, Professor Jeff Dunn, was explicit when announcing the results. As the Courier-mail reported, he said: “This is a scourge we must stamp out, and nearly all Queenslanders agree with us.”

Alarmingly, only 19 per cent of the Queenslanders surveyed opposed the radical proposal, which is nothing short of a naked attempt to implement prohibition without an electoral backlash. As only applying the ban to people born after 2001 — a group that can’t yet vote — will result in far fewer voters with a stake in the result.

However, this would create an absurd situation where, for example, in the year 2030 smoking will be illegal for 29-year-olds, but completely legal for anyone over 30 — a clear violation of equality before the law.

It also ignores the ample evidence of the disastrous results of prohibition. When the U.S. implemented alcohol prohibition in the first half of the twentieth century it led to skyrocketing crime rates, with homicides increasing by 42 per cent between 1920 and 1933 (rates declined steadily as soon as it was repealed). Alcohol prohibition also helped establish the mafia as a national organization in American society.

Crucially, it completely failed to stop people drinking. Estimates of the number of speakeasies in New York City range between 20 thousand and 100 thousand. By comparison, there were only 55 thousand licensed bars and restaurants in the entire State of New York, as of 2012.

Illegal tobacco is unlikely to be in such high demand, but there will be negative effects.

Illicit tobacco is already estimated to account for 14 per cent of all tobacco consumed in Australia, and the incentives for organized crime would skyrocket if it were made illegal.

Ironically, the Cancer Council’s survey was released just days after the Therapeutic Goods Administration rejected a proposal to legalize nicotine liquids for use in e-cigarettes.

The proposal was rejected because of opposition from groups like the Cancer Council, who have previously praised Queensland for passing some of the world’s toughest e-cigarette laws, calling them “a significant threat to public health”.

This is despite multiple organizations, including both Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians, finding e-cigarettes to be 95 per cent less harmful than smoking.

Evidence from where e-cigarettes are legal also shows they help people quit.

Of the 2.5 million smokers who attempted to quit in 2015, 1 million used an e-cigarette as a quitting aid. This helped produce the highest ever success rate for quitting.

According to Public Health England, e-cigarettes “have quickly become the most common aid that smokers in England use to help them stop smoking.” There is even evidence that e-cigarettes can encourage quitting or a reduction in smoking among those not intending to quit.

Admittedly, there is no evidence about long-term use of e-cigarettes. They are simply too new. But this does not justify a ban. All evidence shows they are vastly less harmful than smoking, and it could take decades for any evidence about long-term use to emerge. In the meantime, thousands will suffer while we wait; continuing to use a product that is proven to be more dangerous.

If the Cancer Council of Queensland wants to help people lead healthier lifestyles, then they should be embracing the new, safer alternatives to smoking, like e-cigarettes. Blindly continuing with a crusade to ban smoking will cause more harm than good.

Patrick Hannaford is an Australian writer, you can follow him @PatHannaford

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