Science & Medical |
Terry Barnes, Cormorant Policy Advice

"Bum over tit" approach to e-cigarettes wrong way to reduce smoking rates and harm


“Bum over tit” approach to e-cigarettes wrong way to reduce smoking rates and harm

“Australia’s public health approach is ‘bum over tit’ in relation to regulating e-cigarettes, and federal and state governments must change this”, Terry Barnes, Cormorant Policy Advice principal, part-time fellow of the UK Institute of Economic Affairs and the former Howard government adviser whose work on GP co-payments sparked a heated political debate about the sustainability of Medicare, said today.

“We all want to end the scourge of tobacco smoking, but pre-emptively banning e-cigarettes containing nicotine merely risks more smoking-related deaths and illness”, he said.

In a paper released today, Mr Barnes argues that if public health policy is about reducing harm, we should embrace e-cigarettes now rather than later, as an emerging safer and healthier alternative to smoking.

“It’s being reported that youth smoking rates continue to decline, but adult smokers need more risk-reducing options like e-cigarettes to wean them off smoking”, Mr Barnes said.

“Given this, the Australian Medical Association’s and public health establishment’s outspoken hostility against e-cigarettes is troubling, especially as emerging evidence of their risk-reducing potential is largely positive”.

“That conservative Coalition governments and politicians, who love talking personal freedom and choice, mostly accept this prevailing mindset unquestioningly is doubly troubling.”

Mr Barnes pointed out nicotine isn’t the deadly component of cigarette smoke. “The real killers are the 7,000 toxins, including at least 70 carcinogens, swirling in that blue smoke”, Mr Barnes said.

“Allowing new nicotine-containing alternatives to cigarettes through what, according to some studies, contains negligible or zero traces of a great many of these toxins, should be a no-brainer.”

In the UK and Europe, however, e-cigarettes are being embraced as new and promising alternatives for smokers struggling to quit, even though the body of positive scientific evidence is still growing.

“Over there, e-cigarettes are getting the benefit of the doubt while evidence is gathered”, Mr Barnes noted.

“Yet the prevailing approach in Australian public health circles effectively is ban first, ask questions later”.

 “Under the Australian Poisons Standard, however, the only way nicotine remains generally available without medical approval is in ‘tobacco prepared and packed for smoking’: in other words, deadly cigarettes,” Mr Barnes said.

“The Poisons Standard should at least recognise new technology, enabling nicotine-containing e-cigarettes to be sold generally in Australia to responsible adults”, Mr Barnes said.

Mr Barnes said he isn’t advocating deregulatory open slather.

“Experience overseas with sub-standard products, manufacturing and tampering with the nicotine-containing “e-juice” cartridges indicates sensible product quality and safety standards are a must”, he said.

But the longer innovative products like nicotine-containing e-cigarettes are kept away from most smokers, more smoking-related deaths and disease, and related economic and social costs, could have been avoided. 

“This is the adverse result of well-meaning but misguided application, by advocates, politicians and regulators, of what is called the “precautionary principle”, Mr Barnes said.

“Is this what health professionals, policy-makers and public health experts really want?”

31 January 2016                                                                   Contact: Terry Barnes (03) 9515 4961; 0408 140 817

The policy discussion paper is attached.