Australia Urged To Ditch Its ‘Quit Or Die’ Tobacco Stance And Legalize Vaping

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A prominent tobacco treatment specialist is calling on the Australian government to ditch their prohibitionist tobacco strategy and “embrace the new paradigm of vaping.”

Colin Mendelsohn, associate professor and tobacco treatment specialist at the University of New South Wales, says the current tobacco control policies of Australia’s Department of Health and the Australian Medical Association are “­seriously flawed” and harming overall public health in the country. Federal regulators in Australia largely rely on studies that are adversarial towards vaping, ignoring the larger body of research showing their immense benefit as a cessation tool, Mendelsohn said in an editorial Monday for The Australian.

Nicotine juice is currently illegal in Australia, rendering electronic cigarettes useless for smokers interested in transitioning to a less harmful option. In their latest report, the Department of Health pushes a number of misleading narratives on vaping, concluding that in order to protect public health Australia should not open access to the products prematurely.

Meanwhile, cigarettes remain legal and the smoking population in Australia is increasing due to the restricted access to alternative technologies.

“Overseas experience and research suggests vaping is helping millions of smokers to quit, many of whom would not otherwise have succeeded,” says Mendelsohn in The Australian. “A study in 2014 estimated that six million smokers had quit in the European Union alone with vaping. … Rather than being paralyzed by fear and waiting 20 years to get ­definitive evidence, we need to make the best decision now on the abundant evidence available.”

Many smokers in the country are ignoring the law and using e-cigarettes to attempt quitting, but they still run the risk of legal trouble. Vapers in Australia say they feel like their government is persecuting them for making a health conscious choice.

Mendelsohn laments how the Australian stance on vapor products stands in “stark contrast” to the health care bodies of the United Kingdom. The U.K. currently has the second lowest smoking rate in all of Europe, and officials say vaping is a big part of the reason.

The Royal College of Physicians agrees that using e-cigarettes eliminates most of the harms attributed to smoking. The medical body also recommends vaping for patients trying to quit traditional tobacco products. Vaping eliminates up to 95 percent of the risk associated with cigarettes because the majority of cancer-causing chemicals are inhaled through smoke, according to Public Health England.

“It is time for Australia to follow the lead of similar countries,” Mendelsohn says in the editorial. “Australia needs to embrace the new paradigm of vaping and leave the prohibitionist, abstinence-only policy (‘quit or die’) in the past where it belongs. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Australian smokers depend on it.”

Advocates of smoking alternatives say alarmism over vaping misses the larger point about e-cigarettes, namely that they are a harm reduction tool helping millions of smokers quit worldwide.

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Steve Birr

Vice Reporter

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