Australia's backward step

Australia's backward step

Australia could do with a large dose of liberalism - and I mean the proper variety, not the sort doled out by nanny statists who call themselves liberal when they are anything but. The opening line of the Australian national anthem is, "Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free." Well, not as free as you would think.

Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has announced it will keep its current ban on the sale of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes. The reasons it gave are just a rehash of the tired and discredited arguments used here in the UK. It said that legalising nicotine in e-cigarettes will normalise smoking again. The argument goes that if you try and give up smoking through vaping, you will encourage teenagers to experiment with a pack of 20 cigarettes. As Professor Colin Mendelsohn, a Tobacco Treatment Specialist in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at The University of New South Wales, put it, "After ten years of overseas experience, there is no evidence that they act as a gateway to smoking in young people, in fact they appear to be replacing smoking in young people rather than encouraging it.". He went on to say, "The TGA decision appears to be driven more by ideology than science and will cost the lives of thousands of Australian smokers.” Quite. 

The other reason the TGA gave was a lack of evidence regarding the safety of long-term nicotine exposure through e-cigarettes. Presumably, they would rather people not give up smoking. Dr Michael Keane, an anaesthetist and an adjunct associate professor at Swinburne’s Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, commented that "the decision of the TGA in effect reverse normalises conventional cigarettes and this will potentially kill many Australians." He also said that "if people die because of the missed opportunity to allow this much safer product on the market, those responsible for this decision should be seen in the same light as the cigarette company CEOs of the 1980’s.” Strong words that show the frustration of those in Australia who can see the enormous health benefits of tobacco harm reduction. 

If we think we have it bad here in the UK (and let's be honest, the situation is not ideal), it is nowhere near as bad as it is in Australia and other countries such as India, Canada, and the USA. The good news is that the UK is leading the world. It is our Royal College of Physicians (RCP) who put its head above the medical world's parapet and said that e-cigarettes are at least 95 per cent safer than smoking combustible cigarettes. The report I authored on the vaping policies of UK councils has been taken seriously, and Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, replied in a question from me that educating councils was a priority for them in 2017. I know we have backward groups such as the British Medical Association (BMA) who are hostile to vaping, but we must remember that the BMA is not a professional body. It is a trade union for doctors and its views and policies do not have as much weight as the RCP. 

With all the zeal we can muster, we need to export the positive vision of tobacco harm reduction throughout the world, and at the moment, there is no better place to start than the great country of Australia, who, if I may borrow and amend a slogan used by Donald Trump, can be made more liberal, free, and great again. 

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