My partner started smoking cigarettes in high school. A little over a year ago, he quit, thanks to nicotine vaping. But last week, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, at the behest of Health Minister Greg Hunt, robbed him and thousands of other Australians of the most effective nicotine replacement therapy available. As of 1 July, vapers will face a $220,000 fine if they try to import their nicotine vape liquid from vape shops abroad — even if they have a prescription.
It is already illegal for Australian vape shops to sell nicotine, so Australian vapers are required to get their liquid from abroad through the Personal Importations Scheme. Under the new rules, only pharmacies and doctors that are authorised by the TGA to prescribe vaping can import nicotine vape liquids and e-cigarettes for their patients.
Since becoming Health Minister, Greg Hunt has crusaded against vaping with near-religious fervour. He has repeatedly and dogmatically ignored the scientific evidence in support of vaping as an aid to quit smoking.
In May 2017 the House of Representatives Health Committee initiated an inquiry into e-cigarettes. Then just a few months later, Greg Hunt publicly stated that vaping would, “not be happening under my watch.” He undermined the inquiry and disregarded their potential findings.
Two years later, he repeated the stunt, saying he would not “countenance” vaping on his watch. But the Australian National University was, and is currently, conducting an independent scientific review into vaping at the cost of $750,000 on taxpayers.
The Health Minister has a responsibility to defer to the data instead of making unilateral decisions.
The primary argument against vaping presented by Greg Hunt and others is that it could be an ‘on-ramp’ to smoking, specifically for teenagers. In an interview, Greg Hunt pointed to the 78 per cent increase in vaping among highschoolers in the United States over twelve months. But that same year, the US saw an unprecedented drop in smoking rates among teens.
Kids don’t need fruity vape flavours to experiment where they shouldn’t. A few years ago, some teens started smoking coffee. The unhealthy fad quickly died thanks to the terrible side effects–no real harm done. While smoking caffeine is likely dangerous, when consumed appropriately in a cup of coffee or tea, caffeine is safe and socially acceptable.
Similarly, nicotine, while highly addictive, is relatively safe when not smoked. Doctors regularly prescribe nicotine patches, nicotine gums, nicotine sprays, and nicotine inhalers to help smokers quit. While helpful, most of these methods fail to make nicotine consumption enjoyable for the addict and most revert back to smoking.
Vaping allows smokers to partake in the smoking culture without risking their lives. And vaping tastes better than cigarettes, which helps wean vapers off of nicotine as they pursue more potent flavours.
When nicotine is divorced from tobacco and consumed through e-cigarettes and vapes, it is 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes. No one has died from legal, properly-regulated vaping products.
Yet, every day 58 Australians die from smoking-related illnesses, and that number is only increasing. Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death worldwide.
Only by legalising vaping, can the Australian government regulate it. Nicotine bottles should have child-safe lids, ingredient lists, and warnings. According to a survey conducted by Legalise Vaping Australia, 58 per cent of vapers would feel safer getting their nicotine from Australia.
The Australian government should be encouraging smokers to switch to vaping. Instead, they are stigmatising the very thing which saves people from their smoking addiction.
In Australia, 300,000 people vape with nicotine. Those vapers, who have worked so hard to quit, don’t want their addiction to drag them back into smoking. Their loved ones, myself included, don’t want to see them resume a habit that kills two in three long term users.
Hunt is already facing a revolt from more open-minded backbenchers.
And rightly so. This regulatory change will condemn thousands to smoking, with all its repercussions.
Emilie Dye is the Director of Policy at Legalise Vaping Australia.
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