YOU wouldn’t think it was possible, but the stupidest law in Australia just got stupider. Within the space of 60 seconds last week, the Federal Government both declared it was standing by its ban on electronic cigarettes and announced there would be a parliamentary inquiry into reviewing that ban — led by one of its own MPs. Seriously, WTF? Little wonder people are confused by politics in Australia these days. The bizarre and contradictory double-act follows the Prime Minister himself being personally begged in writing by over 100 international experts to reverse Australia’s prohibition on nicotine e-cigarettes, which they say are life-saving devices. There are around 2.6 million smokers in Australia and up to two-thirds of them will die as a result of smoking. By contrast electronic cigarettes have been shown to be 95 per cent less harmful. If every Australian smoker switched to e-cigarettes more than one million lives could be saved. Smoking is also estimated to cost the country between $12 billion and $30 billion a year in things like health care costs and lost productivity due to sickness and premature death. In other words, the government could potentially save more than a million lives and billions of dollars with the stroke of a pen. And yet electronic cigarettes with nicotine in them are illegal in Australia because of a ruling by the Therapeutic Goods Administration that even tiny concentrations of nicotine must be classed as poison. This is despite the fact that the UK, US, European Union and even New Zealand have all moved to legalise e-cigarettes in recognition of their capacity to save countless lives. And it is despite the fact that nicotine-laced cigarettes, also packed with cancer-causing carcinogens, are on sale at every convenience store and supermarket in the country. Yes, a product that could save people’s lives is illegal while something that we know kills people in their hundreds of thousands is freely available over the counter.
Nicotine e-cigs are less harmful but more illegal. WTF? Picture: ThinkStockSource:ThinkStock
You don’t need a genius to tell you that doesn’t make sense but fortunately for the PM, a group of geniuses has done so anyway.
No less than 140 doctors, scientists and other experts from around the world have written to Malcolm Turnbull urging him to review the government’s ban – citing multiple international studies.
The signatories include experts from Oxford University, Yale University, the UK Royal Society of Physicians, King’s College London, Johns Hopkins University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, to name just a few, as well as a Polish toxicologist and Indian molecular biologist for good measure.
“The available evidence suggests that the potential risks from Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems are relatively small and can be minimised with sensible regulation,” the letter states.
“Furthermore, modelling studies using conservative estimates have shown there is a substantial net public health benefit from the use of ENDS.
“We regret that Australia is increasingly out-of-step with other countries in this regard… We therefore strongly encourage a prompt reclassification by legislation of low concentrations of nicotine for vaping as a consumer product.”
For six weeks they heard nothing back – during which time, incidentally, around 1,800 people would have died from smoking-related illness in Australia alone.
Cigarettes are causing millions of people to die hard. (Okay, this was just an excuse to run a pic of Bruce Willis.) Picture: Getty Images
Cigarettes are causing millions of people to die hard. (Okay, this was just an excuse to run a pic of Bruce Willis.) Picture: Getty ImagesSource:News Corp Australia
Then last week, following inquiries from news.com.au, the PM’s office referred your humble correspondent to Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie, who said the government was standing by the ban.
“After consideration of the available scientific information and the extensive public submissions for nicotine, the TGA’s final decision on this application was there should be no change in regulations,” his office said in a statement.
“The effect of this final decision is that the commercial supply of nicotine for use in e-cigarettes will remain prohibited in Australia under state and territory legislation.”
The statement reaffirming this “final decision” was sent to news.com.au at precisely 4.54pm last Thursday.
Yet exactly one minute later at precisely 4.55pm another statement was issued by another government MP announcing that there would be an inquiry into the laws by a committee with a government majority, following a referral from Health Minister Greg Hunt — who is also, it is worth noting, a member of the government.
Under the rather unambiguous title “E-Cigarette Inquiry Commences”, the chair of the Parliament’s Health, Aged Care and Sport Committee Trent Zimmerman, the Liberal member for North Sydney, stated:
“The Inquiry will investigate the health impacts of e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers, as well as their marketing and use as an aid for people attempting to quit smoking. The Committee will also consider the appropriate regulatory framework for these products in Australia.”
What a difference a minute makes! Email from Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie’s office on electronic cigarettes at 4.54pm…Source:Supplied
…and a statement from Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman on electronic cigarettes issued at 4.55pm.Source:Supplied
The statement even specifically noted that e-cigarettes were legal in the EU, UK and US and in the process of being legalised in New Zealand and potentially Canada. Mr Zimmerman added: “We will also look at international approaches to legislating and regulating the use of e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers.”
And so the federal government currently has two contradictory positions – or rather, to be more precise, the executive federal government has one position and a parliamentary body headed by a federal government MP and with a government majority has a completely different one.
The fact that these two positions were announced within 60 seconds of each other, well – that’s just the icing on the cake.
The absurd consequence was that at the close of business last Thursday some of the brightest minds on the planet didn’t know whether they had just won or lost.
But wait, as they say in the classics, there’s more.
These two positions are on top of a raft of different legal positions around Australia, with each of the eight states and territories having varying sets of rules which are often misinterpreted or misrepresented by state health departments and public health organisations to discourage it, according to Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of NSW.
Experts think nicotine e-cigarettes are an excellent way to quit the far more deadly tobacco cigarettes.Source:Supplied
In a nutshell, it is usually legal to use electronic cigarettes that don’t have nicotine — and are therefore pointless as a quitting aid — but illegal to use the ones that do, and would therefore be a replacement for the cigarettes that actually kill people. The only exception is if you have a prescription from a doctor.
And in Queensland they’ve even started handing out fines for possessing nicotine — unless of course it’s in the deadly tobacco form.
Because if you think we’ve reached saturation stupidity at this point, just remember how this all began: It is still perfectly legal in all states and territories to walk into any convenience store or supermarket and kill yourself with as many cigarettes as you want.
Yes, this death by dumbness. Welcome to Australia.