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A Sad Day for Public Health in Australia



Today marks a sad day in public health. A day in which hope is all but lost for the millions of smokers in Australia, whom the Australian government has officially side-lined through the banning of e-cigarettes.  The mantra that was once “quit or die” for many in the world will now be echoing loudly in the ears of those smokers who find their addiction to nicotine too strong to stop. In a world where technological advances are prevalent in all aspects of life, the Australian government has categorically decided that the only way for addicted smokers to relieve their cravings is through combusting tobacco and releasing thousands of harmful compounds with the nicotine they so much require. 

This is, in all cases, a retrograde step. The opportunity to save thousands of lives by allowing smokers to switch to legal e-cigarettes has fallen by the wayside. And why? Because the government believes that e-cigarettes are a means for large multinational corporations to hook a new generation onto nicotine. 

They have absolutely failed to realize, acknowledge, or possibly even admit that these “kid-attractive” flavors are not being manufactured and distributed by large multinationals. Instead, they are the product of companies with little interest in public health and out to make “a quick buck.” Their irresponsibility is destroying opportunities for smokers. Regardless of the scepticism that exists, large multinationals are in the strongest position to make a difference with the machinery and infrastructure to get e-cigarettes out to current smokers. No one says e-cigarettes are safe, but they are significantly less harmful than smoking cigarettes.

The decision is misplaced. Instead of banning a whole category, the Australian administration could have tried to seriously crack down on youth sales like the UK government. They could have limited the products available on the market - something for smokers is better than nothing. The only minuscule glimmer of hope is that e-cigarettes will still be available through pharmacy prescriptions. However, we know that a big part of the success of e-cigarettes is driven by the fact that they are readily available and often from the same points of sale where smokers would buy their combustible products. With advertising bans, points of sale are the only place where messages regarding the risk reduction potential of e-cigarettes can be directly communicated to smokers. 

But alas, whether it be political motivation or a misguided sense of responsibility, the Australian government has got it wrong. I do, however, see this as a warning shot! We must not see this policy replicated around the world. The rise and attention that recent youth vaping has gained in the UK is concerning. The UK government has been more pragmatic, with a determination to try and resolve the youth use issue by stricter Trading standards enforcement and cracking down on those who sell to kids.

If the industry does not work together to combat both the heinous presentation of some products which are so obviously appealing to youngsters and the sale of products to underage consumers, we, too, might see a similar situation arising whereby there is simply an outright ban. We must, as an industry, with all those involved, ensure that we provide smokers with continued opportunities to switch but do not attract teenagers and nicotine-naive users into the category….it’s more than a responsibility….the lives of millions of smokers depend on it.