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In Australia e-cigarette devices are legal, but the use of nicotine-containing refills is not. In August 2016, several public health activists, amongst which the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA), had submitted proposals to local regulator Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), to remove nicotine concentrations of below 3.6% from the Poisons Standard.

To purchase nicotine e-liquids, Australians need to first obtain a prescription from a GP, then find a pharmacy that actually sells them. On the other hand, buying a packet of deadly cigarettes can be very easily done over the counter.
However, in February 2017, the TGA rejected the application and upheld the nicotine ban. “The TGA is essentially saying to the hundreds of thousands of Australians who have already quit smoking by using e-cigarettes: You quit the wrong way. We are not going to let you do this. But you can go and buy a pack of smokes, no problem.” said Dr. Attila Danko from NNA AU, at the time.

In order to be able to purchase nicotine-containing e-liquids, Australian smokers who wish to switch need to first obtain prescription from a doctor, and then find a pharmacy that actually sells the liquids. However ironically, buying a packet of deadly cigarettes that are about 95% more harmful than e-cigarettes, is very easily done over the counter.

Australian health authorities ignoring scientific evidence

Live on Sydney’s No.1 rating radio station, 2GB, Ben Fordham opened the session by pointing out that Australia should be adopting the same approach as countries such as the UK, and make it easier for smokers to have access to the safer alternatives. “There is pressure building on lawmakers to stop ignoring the evidence on e-cigarettes. Our approach is backwards. Our health ministers have their heads in the sand,” said Fordham.

“There is pressure building on lawmakers to stop ignoring the evidence on e-cigarettes. Our approach is backwards. Our health ministers have their heads in the sand.” Ben Fordham, radio show host, 2GB

Fordham pointed out that in the last few days two cancer action bodies in the UK and the US have updated their policies in relation to e-cigarettes, and are now actively encouraging smokers to switch to the safer alternatives. The radio host continued by pointing out that in contrast, Australian lawmakers are ignoring scientific research, making it difficult for smokers to obtain the devices, and therefore “ robbing smokers of an effective and safer device.”

Beating around the bush

After welcoming Health Minister Brad Hazzard on the show, Fordham referred to the fact that Cancer Research UK has stated that e-cigarettes are significantly safer than regular cigarettes and is actively encouraging smokers to switch to the safer alternatives. He then proceeded to ask the Minister for his comments but Hazzard avoided to comment and just said that the Health Ministry is not telling people to not vape, but only to not do so in public.

The radio host assured the minister that he is in agreement with vaping restrictions in public spaces, but pointed out that his question was not being answered. He mentioned the compelling research about the relative safety of e-cigs once again, yet once more the minister failed to give a direct answer. “There are a variety of views in the US and the UK,” said Hazzard “My view has been informed by the advice from a whole range of specialists here in Australia.”

Listen to the recorded exchange: 2GB

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