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Gone in 60 seconds: Govt backs vaping law then announces inquiry one minute later
YOU wouldn’t think it was possible, but the stupidest law in Australia just got stupider. It all happened in the space of 60 seconds.
Within the space of 60 seconds last week, the Federal Government both declared it was standing by its ban on electronic cigarettes and announced there would be a parliamentary inquiry into reviewing that ban — led by one of its own MPs.
Little wonder people are confused by politics in Australia these days.
The bizarre and contradictory double-act follows the Prime Minister himself being personally begged in writing by over 100 international experts to reverse Australia’s prohibition on nicotine e-cigarettes, which they say are life-saving devices.
There are around 2.6 million smokers in Australia and up to two-thirds of them will die as a result of smoking.
By contrast electronic cigarettes have been shown to be 95 per cent less harmful. If every Australian smoker switched to e-cigarettes more than one million lives could be saved. Smoking is also estimated to cost the country between $12 billion and $30 billion a year in things like health care costs and lost productivity due to sickness and premature death.
In other words, the government could potentially save more than a million lives and billions of dollars with the stroke of a pen.
And yet electronic cigarettes with nicotine in them are illegal in Australia because of a ruling by the Therapeutic Goods Administration that even tiny concentrations of nicotine must be classed as poison.
This is despite the fact that the UK, US, European Union and even New Zealand have all moved to legalise e-cigarettes in recognition of their capacity to save countless lives.
And it is despite the fact that nicotine-laced cigarettes, also packed with cancer-causing carcinogens, are on sale at every convenience store and supermarket in the country.
Yes, a product that could save people’s lives is illegal while something that we know kills people in their hundreds of thousands is freely available over the counter.
Nicotine e-cigs are less harmful but more illegal. WTF? Picture: ThinkStockSource:ThinkStock
You don’t need a genius to tell you that doesn’t make sense but fortunately for the PM, a group of geniuses has done so anyway.
No less than 140 doctors, scientists and other experts from around the world have written to Malcolm Turnbull urging him to review the government’s ban – citing multiple international studies.
The signatories include experts from Oxford University, Yale University, the UK Royal Society of Physicians, King’s College London, Johns Hopkins University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, to name just a few, as well as a Polish toxicologist and Indian molecular biologist for good measure.
“The available evidence suggests that the potential risks from Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems are relatively small and can be minimised with sensible regulation,” the letter states.
“Furthermore, modelling studies using conservative estimates have shown there is a substantial net public health benefit from the use of ENDS.
“We regret that Australia is increasingly out-of-step with other countries in this regard… We therefore strongly encourage a prompt reclassification by legislation of low concentrations of nicotine for vaping as a consumer product.”
For six weeks they heard nothing back – during which time, incidentally, around 1,800 people would have died from smoking-related illness in Australia alone.
Then last week, following inquiries from news.com.au, the PM’s office referred your humble correspondent to Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie, who said the government was standing by the ban.
“After consideration of the available scientific information and the extensive public submissions for nicotine, the TGA’s final decision on this application was there should be no change in regulations,” his office said in a statement.
“The effect of this final decision is that the commercial supply of nicotine for use in e-cigarettes will remain prohibited in Australia under state and territory legislation.”
The statement reaffirming this “final decision” was sent to news.com.au at precisely 4.54pm last Thursday.
Yet exactly one minute later at precisely 4.55pm another statement was issued by another government MP announcing that there would be an inquiry into the laws by a committee with a government majority, following a referral from Health Minister Greg Hunt -- who is also, it is worth noting, a member of the government.
Under the rather unambiguous title “E-Cigarette Inquiry Commences”, the chair of the Parliament’s Health, Aged Care and Sport Committee Trent Zimmerman, the Liberal member for North Sydney, stated:
“The Inquiry will investigate the health impacts of e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers, as well as their marketing and use as an aid for people attempting to quit smoking. The Committee will also consider the appropriate regulatory framework for these products in Australia.”