OpinionEliminate Cancer03 May 2019

Minderoo backs government’s refusal to cave on e-cigs

We’re happy to hear our political leaders are sticking to the facts on e-cigarettes.

Men holding electronic cigarette on colored background background
E-cigarette use by high school students has been labelled an “epidemic” in the US. Photo Credit: mustafagull.

Minderoo Foundation’s Eliminate Cancer initiative commends both sides of Federal Government for their united front on e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes represent a dangerous new pathway into smoking, and in countries with lax regulation, e-cigarette use has reached epidemic proportions among teenagers in recent years.

As part of our Eliminate Cancer initiative, we’re campaigning to make sure the current prohibition on the sale of nicotine based e-cigarettes stays in place in Australia, and combat e-cigarette use worldwide.

We’re happy to hear our leaders are sticking to the facts.

Addressing the National Press Club on Thursday, Health Minister Greg Hunt was asked to comment on the United States decision to permit cigarette company Phillip Morris to sell its IQOS tobacco heating system (e-cigarette) in the US.

The decision goes against recent comments made by the US Surgeon General[i] that opening the flood gates to e-cigarettes has led to an “epidemic” rise in the number of high school students taking up vaping in the US, threatening to hook a new generation of young people to nicotine.

This is not something we want to see in Australia.

Asked if Australia should follow suit, Minister Greg Hunt said “What has occurred, I think, is a public health disaster, and that is not something that on my watch I’m willing to countenance.”

Minister Hunt rightly stressed the tobacco industry is behind the vaping push.

Current evidence indicates the balance of harms at a population level significantly outweighs any potential benefit of e-cigarette use.[ii]

“It is far more a case of being a ramp on, rather than a pathway off smoking,” Mr Hunt said, according to Australian Associated Press.

“So, no, that’s not what I’m proposing, on my time, on my watch, so long as I’m in this role.”

Shadow Health Minister Catherine King agreed.

“Tobacco advocates see vaping as another way to expand their market and have been walking the corridors of parliament to spruik it,” Ms King said.

“We’re going to resist that. It’s not something Australia should countenance.”

Currently there is no approval for any Australian retailer to sell vaping products containing nicotine and importing them is illegal unless approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration as part of a smoking cessation programme.

E-cigarette producers have so far failed to prove the safety or effectiveness of their products as a quitting tool, so this is the way it should stay.

Despite repeated claims by producers that these products are safer than traditional cigarettes, their short and long-term health effects remain unknown.

We should not forget that it took decades for the dangers of cigarettes to become apparent. Today, tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year.[iii]

We also cannot forget the lack of transparency surrounding the contents of these products. Recent testing of a suite of e-cigarettes by the Telethon Kids Institute, Curtin University and The University of Western Australia revealed traces of animal bodily functions, such as faeces, as well as chemicals commonly used in soaps and detergents, in addition to the range of toxic chemicals[iv].

Of the ten products tested, six were found to contain nicotine, despite being sold or purchased online as “nicotine free”, no doubt in an attempt to addict users and bypass our country’s law that requires all nicotine products to be tested and approved by the TGA.

E-cigarette use poses a significant and avoidable health risk to our kids. Even breathing e-cigarette vapor that someone else has exhaled poses potential health risks.

We do not want them in Australia.

Niki Comparti
by Niki Comparti
Niki Comparti joined the Minderoo family in April 2019 as the Stakeholder Communications Manager for the Eliminate Cancer initiative. Niki holds a BA in Mass Communications majoring in journalism and public relations from Curtin University, and has more than ten years’ experience within the media, government and not-for-profit sectors, working across cancer, health and the arts.
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