Bizarre scenes as Australia goes into a spin on e-cig law
There was confusion and frustration in Australia last week as the federal government first insisted it planned to stick with its widely criticised ban on vapour products, then seconds later appeared to announce a possible climbdown in the face of intense opposition from within Australia and around the world.
Australia has some of the harshest anti-vaping laws in the world because the Therapeutic Goods Administration classes nicotine as a prohibited poison (unless it’s in tobacco) and is applying this rule strictly to e-liquid. This has been controversial from the beginning; although it’s been supported by the more extreme fringe of Australia’s public health activists it’s been widely criticised both within the country and around the world.
Earlier this year around 140 international experts wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asking him, on the basis of the evidence, to reconsider the ban. There was no response for six weeks, until last Thursday, News.com.au asked the government if they were considering the requests. The reply from assistant health minister David Gillespie was that the TGA decision was the final word on the matter.
However, exactly one minute later, another government MP released a contradictory statement announcing an inquiry into the real health impact of e-cigarettes and what an appropriate legal framework would be. It’s possible this is just mixed messages from a confused government, but the best case scenario is that Australia is finally considering moving to a more sensible position.
New study calms vape cancer fears
The claim that e-cigarette vapour contains dangerous carcinogens is a common one among opponents of harm reduction, and several studies about formaldehyde and other substances have been used to support it. How a new study has confirmed that vapour doesn’t promote the growth of cancer cells.
Conducted by scientists at BioReliance Corporation, who specialise in testing the biological safety of chemicals, the study measured the cancer-causing potential of both vapour and cigarette smoke. What they found is that while smoke was a potent cause of cell mutations, the vapour from a Vype e-cigarette showed absolutely no carcinogenic promoter activity.
The test used in the experiment was interesting because it doesn’t just look at the ability of chemicals to damage DNA, as most previous studies have done. It actually measures whether, and how strongly, they promote the growth of tumours once DNA damage has occurred. This makes it more relevant to real-world effects, so the fact it found no effects from e-cig vapour is very encouraging.
Democrat anti-vapers put pressure on new FDA chief
Eleven Democratic Party senators have written an open letter to newly appointed FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb urging him to press ahead with the proposed Deeming Regulations, the strict regulatory system that threatens to wipe out most of the US vaping industry. Demanding that he “stand up to special interests,” the politicians want Gottlieb to reverse his recent decision to delay the badly planned regulations for three months to allow time for businesses to comply.
It’s unlikely that Gottlieb will be pushed into a climbdown by this letter; he seems determined to take a more science-based approach to vaping than his predecessor, and is known to be a harm reduction supporter. However it’s worrying that so many politicians are still pressing for tougher restrictions despite the mounting evidence that vapour products are a safer and effective replacement for smoking.
Canadian pressure group demands restrictions on vape industry
The Canadian Cancer Society has called for tough regulations on labelling of vapour products after a group of schoolchildren tasted e-liquid from a bottle they’d found in the school playground and one was hospitalised. According to reports the bottle was branded as Unicorn Milk, and the girls were attracted by the label and the strawberry flavour of the liquid.
After tasting the liquid one nine-year-old girl, who had apparently also spilled her liquid on her hand, complained of nausea, cramps and dizziness. The school contacted her mother, who took her to hospital; there, she was apparently diagnosed with nicotine poisoning and released after a few hours.
It seems that the victim’s symptoms were minor and no real harm was done, but predictably anti-vaping activists have seized on the chance to demand more restrictions. In fact the bottle was marked with a poison symbol and the girls had apparently ignored this; they only had access to the bottle in the first place because it had been left, for reasons unknown, in the playground. However this is sure to reignite the long-running debate about liquid marketing.