If you work in the city, or in one of our regional town centres, you’ve probably crossed paths with someone using an e-cigarette at one point or another, and have smelt the warm puff of cinnamon, caramel, or some other exotic flavour.
It might surprise you to learn, however, that the people who vape these innocuous flavoured liquids using an e-cigarette have almost certainly had to break the law in order to obtain one. E-cigarettes are currently illegal to sell in Western Australia, and most people have to get one from interstate, or even overseas.
When it comes to the actual liquid that vapers use (the ‘e-liquid’) it’s legal to buy that over the counter, providing it doesn’t contain nicotine. But if it does, you could be facing a fine of up to $45,000. No, that’s not a typo, and I’m not joking.
I’m a Liberal Democrat MP in the state parliament, and while I don’t vape myself, I strongly believe that you have a right to do what you want with regard to your own body, and what you choose to put into it.
That’s why, last week, sick and tired of waiting for mainstream politicians to drag themselves into the twenty-first century, I launched a campaign to legalise vaping in WA.
Our campaign is part of a broader movement called Legalise Vaping Australia, which is being coordinated by the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, and I have taken on the role of WA spokesperson on this issue.
As such, I’ll be working in the coming months with supporters of vaping in an effort to gather a petition of more than 50,000 signatures calling for the legalisation of vaping, which I can then present to my colleagues in parliament.
The Premier has cast doubt on the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes, mimicking the cries of those in the public health lobby who say they are a gateway drug which encourages smoking. But you only need to speak with a handful of people who currently vape to realise that this is a complete misunderstanding of the situation.
We held our campaign launch at Fiona Stanley Hospital. Right there, on the benches beside the main entrance, were about a dozen people vaping. I spoke with all of them, and every single one – every single one – told me that vaping had helped them to give up smoking.
And there’s no doubt in my mind that the choice those people have made is improving their overall standard of health.
Of course, I’m not a medical professional. Neither is the Premier nor is the Health Minister. That’s why I prefer to rely on advice from those who are experts.
Since 2015, Public Health England and no fewer than twelve other British medical bodies have backed the use of e-cigarettes as a quitting tool, concluding that they are up to 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes.
That opened a floodgate in the UK. The Faculty of Public Health, the British Medical Association, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and even Cancer Research UK have since endorsed vaping as a safer alternative to smoking and supported its efficacy as a quitting aid.
In the United States, the American Medical Association has called for e-cigarettes to be available under the same regulations as tobacco-based products.
And in the European Union, often considered the home of red tape and bureaucratic over-reach, a recent study suggested that as many as 15 million smokers in member countries had either quit or cut back on their cigarette use thanks to the ready availability of vaping alternatives.
Yet here in WA, we remain woefully out of touch with reality, and people suffer as a consequence.
If those ex-smokers standing outside Fiona Stanley Hospital want to kick the habit for good, in favour of vaping a substance that puts out no more nicotine than a standard cigarette, good for them. And if that allows them to avoid all the tar and chemicals that we know cause health risks to smokers, are you seriously telling me that the State should fine them half a year’s pay, and label them criminals? It beggars belief.
That’s why, over the coming months, I’ll be travelling around the State, collecting signatures from people who, like me, think that our laws need to be updated.
I’ll be asking people to choose personal freedom over red tape and regulation.
I’ll be asking them if they want the law to continue to look like an ass, or if they’d prefer to give smokers a healthier, safer alternative moving forward.
Because to do any less, in my opinion, belittles ordinary people, and denies relief to thousands on an ongoing basis. And that simply isn’t good enough in this day and age.
Aaron Stonehouse is a Liberal Democrat Member of the Western Australia parliament.
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