For the last several weeks, we have been closely following events in Australia relating to an effort to legalise vaping in that country. For the better part of two months, there has been a concerted push by vaping advocates and a small number of politicians to convince the Australian government to rethink its stance on e-cigarette products containing nicotine. In recent weeks, the calls to legalise vaping have been growing stronger.
The latest group to advocate for vaping in Australia are medical professionals who have looked at the evidence and decided that vaping should be encouraged as a means of reducing smoking rates. Those experts are starting to echo comments made here in the UK suggesting that legalising vaping could save millions of lives by helping smokers reduce or eliminate tobacco consumption.
Have They Been Watching Us?
A perusal of a recent Daily Mail story causes us to wonder whether the Australians have been paying attention to what’s going on here. In all likelihood, they have. The similarities are just too numerous to ignore.
For example, a specialist anaesthetist and University of Melbourne associate professor told an Australian radio station that, “people smoke for the nicotine but they die from the tar – it’s the burning of tobacco leaf that generates toxic chemicals that causes most of the harm.” He went on to explain that nicotine is not particularly harmful by itself.
His argument is one we have already been through here. Years ago, there were a number of prominent harm reduction experts that spoke openly of the relative risks of nicotine as both an addictive substance and one that could cause physical harm. Time and again we heard those experts declare that nicotine is no more harmful than caffeine. Apparently, the Aussies agree. Medical experts in that country are now saying that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is but 5% as harmful as that found in tobacco cigarettes.
How can that be, if nicotine is no more harmful than tobacco? It boils down to how it is delivered. Obviously, delivering nicotine through combustible tobacco exposes the smoker to thousands of toxic chemicals and nearly four dozen carcinogens. Delivering nicotine through e-cigarettes is up to 95% safer (according to Public Health England) because exposure to the same toxic chemicals and carcinogens is almost completely eliminated.
Let’s Get Smoking Rates Down
It is clear that what we’re hearing in Australia right now reflects a growing desire among medical professionals, vaping industry representatives and even politicians to reduce smoking rates further. We see similar movements happening in New Zealand. Both countries are showing good signs of coming around to vaping in the very near future.
Currently, it is illegal to sell electronic cigarette products with nicotine in Australia. Vapers there either purchase their products overseas in the hope that the nicotine-containing liquids make it to their homes, or they simply buy e-cigarette devices without liquid and then buy the ingredients to mix their own.
The tragedy of all this is that recent data we cited in a previous blog post shows a fair number of smokers would seriously attempt to switch to vaping if e-cigarette devices with nicotine were legal in Australia. The one thing preventing them from doing the right thing is the law. This is why we now see so many people stepping up and calling on their government to rethink its stance.
If the goal is truly to reduce tobacco consumption, there are only two ways to do it: figure out how to force or more strongly encourage smokers to quit, or give them an alternative that doesn’t involve tobacco or tobacco products. Governments around the world have been working with the first solution for decades. Has it worked? Only to a certain degree. Smoking rates have levelled off since the turn of the 21st century in countries that have not yet embraced the second solution.
Millions Not Likely to Be Wrong
It is true that we do not know the long-term consequences of using e-cigarettes when we are talking periods of 20 or 30 years. But e-cigarettes have now been available in some parts of the world since 2004. They have been in Europe for nearly ten years now. There are millions of vapers all over the globe that have either reduced their tobacco consumption or quit smoking entirely by making the switch to vaping. Those with the longest vaping histories of 8 to 12 years would be prime candidates for studies looking at the long-term consequences of vaping.
Furthermore, the question of whether e-cigarettes can be used to quit smoking has already been answered by millions of people. Yes, their testimonies are largely seen as anecdotal evidence. But at some point, we must step back and admit that millions of former smokers are not likely to be wrong about the fact that vaping helped them quit.
Calls to legalise e-cigarettes with nicotine are growing in Australia. Between medical experts and vaping advocates, information is being put out there to educate the public on the benefits of vaping as a smoking alternative. We expect Australia’s leaders to eventually have a change of heart if the steady stream of information continues. Like our own government, it gets ever-more difficult for them to remain defiant against vaping when the evidence so clearly shows how much it offers for both harm reduction and bringing down smoking rates.