Exasperated by the insistence of Australian authorities to stand by a tobacco control strategy that they themselves have admitted is a failure, three tobacco harm reduction experts have written a paper reiterating the importance of adequately regulating safer nicotine alternative products in order to reduce harm.
Australia’s smoking cessation rates have stalled. The head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has himself recently admitted that clearly the local tobacco control strategy is failing, and as predicted by countless THR experts, studies have confirmed the current vapes-via-prescription-only law has just led to a booming black market of the products. This means that adults wishing to use the products in order to quit smoking have a tough time obtaining them, while minors can easily obtain the products illicitly, in the same way they have always obtained illegal drugs. Moreover being unregulated, the products purchased are more likely to be unsafe
Many tobacco harm reduction experts have urged Australian authorities to relax vape laws so that the devices are available for smokers wishing to use them to quit. However local regulators do not want to hear it and remain arrogantly adamant that their chosen strategy is the correct one.
Earlier this month, the UK, a country boasting having beat a personal record by reaching the lowest smoking rates it has ever recorded, announced that one million smokers will be given free vape kits to encourage them to give up combustible tobacco products, while pregnant women will also be offered up to £400 to stop smoking as part of the campaign.
Health minister O’Brien said that the “swap to stop” free vape policy is the first of its kind. He said that policies will focus on “helping people to quit” rather than imposing bans. In fact, a Norfolk pilot distributing vape vouchers to smokers, resulted in four in 10 people quitting within a month.
The Australian Health Minister keeps his blinders firmly on
Sadly, in response to this news, Australia’s Health Minister Mark Butler arrogantly said that there is no chance Australia will follow a similar “swap to stop” policy. And while inline with the scientific data indicating the products’ benefit to public health, O’Brien sees the great potential in vapes, Butler called vaping a “public health menace.”
Discussing this tragic state of affairs, tobacco treatment specialist Dr. Colin Mendelsohn has recently published a blog addressing Mark Butler’s Misinformation. Titled, “Why is Australia’s Health Minister misinformed about vaping?” the blog reveals that the health minister’s advisors seem to be a small group of “ideologically-driven tobacco control academics and health bureaucrats with extreme anti-vaping views.”
Paper by Australian tobacco treatment experts offers solutions
Offering an alternative viewpoint to Butler’s, a recent peer reviewed paper written by Mendelsohn and fellow THR experts Dr. Alex Woodak and Dr. Wayne Hall, was published in Drug and Alcohol Review. Titled “How should nicotine vaping be regulated in Australia? Drug and Alcohol Review 2023,” the paper insists that regulations should benefit the public in finding an “optimal balance” between making the products inaccessible to minors whilst ensuring availability for adults wishing to use the products in order to quit smoking.
“The preferred approach is a tightly regulated consumer model with nicotine vaping products sold by licenced retail outlets with strict age-of-sale verification,” said the authors adding that regulations should be relative to risks.
In a blog discussing the study, Dr. Mendelsohn added that vapes should be reclassified as consumer goods, not medicines, and available as such. Of course it is baffling that in Australia cigarettes are widely available for purchase, whilst their safer alternatives are so inaccessible.
How do Australian regulators respond to contradictory findings?
On deliberating all this with Dr. Mendelsohn, with the aim of understanding how Australian authorities tend to respond when presented with evidence which conflicts with their stance, he explained that they just ignore pro-vaping evidence. The expert added that anti-vaping organisations such as the TGA, NHMRC, Health Departments, AMA, Cancer Council and so on, have in fact not responded to the paper yet, yet unsurprisingly he does not sound too hopeful for any eventual reply.
“Health authorities and most political groups in Australia feel they must defend their position, even though it is not working.” He went on the share some examples of how not only do the authorities in question ignore any raised critical points which would question their strategy, but also blatantly refrain from responding to any raised concerns.
“For example, we recently published a harsh critique of the NHMRC position on vaping in Addiction in February raising serious concerns about the key conclusions. The NHMRC is Australia’s leading health and medical research organisation and guides health policy.”
Mendelsohn went on to explain that even though the paper was written by leading experts in the field, the NHMRC seemed to completely brush it off. “Our co-authors included Anne McNeill, John Britton, Neil Benowitz and other leading international experts. The NHMRC eventual response was simply to say their position was right and did not answer any of the concerns raised. This is unacceptable scientific practice, which should be to find the truth, not stifle debate.”
The media in Australia is equally one track minded
Sadly, added the expert, the media in Australia seems similarly staunchly set against vaping. “We also published a critique of the vaping review by the NCEPH at the Australian National University, commissioned by former health minister Greg Hunt. This is also quoted repeatedly to justify Australian policy. However there has been almost no official or media response to our critique.
The media is also hostile to vaping in Australia and there has been almost no media interest to either paper. However the NHMRC and ANU document are repeatedly quoted as the gold standard for evidence and health policy in Australia.”