Australian anti-vaping ideologues can’t run away from the evidence anymore, but they’ll still try.
The latest ground-breaking study in the UK has found that vaping is twice as likely to help people quit smoking when compared to other types of quitting aids such as patches or gum, completely shut down claims by many Australian health authorities and anti-vaping campaigners that ‘there is no evidence vaping helps people quit smoking’.
We know that 2.6 million Australian adults smoke daily, and almost 19,000 Australians die from smoking-related illness each year. The most recent ABS data shows just how dire Australia’s current ‘quit or die’ approach is. Smoking rates have flattened; “about the same” since the 2014 -2015.
That’s three years of failing to help Australians quit. The facts are clear – big spending government advertising campaigns and 1800 quitlines aren’t working. But public health bureaucrats are still refusing to acknowledge the latest international evidence which strongly supports the sale of potentially life-saving alternatives.
Just last week, the results of a randomised controlled trial led by Peter Hajek from Queen Mary University of London showed that e-cigarettes were more effective for smoking cessation than nicotine-replacement therapies like patches, lozenges, sprays or gum when both products were accompanied by behavioural support. After one year, the abstinence rate of e-cigarette users was 18 per cent – double the rate of the nicotine replacement users at 9.9 per cent.
In spite of the misleading claims from anti-vaping campaigners about a lack of scientific evidence, this study adds to the more than 55 scientific studies which show these products are less harmful than traditional cigarettes and help people to quit smoking.
In a time when we should be leading tobacco harm reduction policies, we are being left behind Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom where smoke-free products like e-cigarettes and vaporisers are already legal to purchase.
It’s not all bad news though. Some key Australian health groups working on the front lines of mental health and addiction treatment now support harm reduction.
The Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) support risk-proportionate regulation of vaping and recognise that “the potential harm reduction benefits presented by e-cigarettes and vaporisers for people living with mental illness, and the need for legislative reform for these to be realised.” The Drug and Alcohol Nurses of Australasia, on the front lines of addiction health care, support “the use of e-cigarettes as a harm reduction tool or cessation aid for smokers who cannot quit with approved therapies.”
The Australian health community can no longer cry ignorance. A growing body of well-documented evidence supports this life-saving alternative, which Public Health England says is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking and whose guidance to doctors recommends smoke-free products as quit aids.
The latest research from Steve Woodward, formerly Australia’s first full-time anti-tobacco lobbyist, and Emeritus Professor Bruce Armstrong, an Australian epidemiologist and public health physician, calculates at least 20,000 Australian lives will be saved by a “permissive approach to vaping”, and advocate reviewing Australia’s vaping laws.
Without access to legal and properly regulated less harmful alternatives to cigarettes, Australian smokers are being locked out of another chance to quit smoking.
The evidence is in and it’s time to act on it. We can’t afford to delay legalising smoke-free options while the harm associated with smoking continues to claim lives and affect thousands of Australian families.
Brian Marlow is the Campaign Director of Legalise Vaping Australia, a grassroots advocacy campaign, funded by the community. LVA does not accept funding from the tobacco industry.
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