Vaping: a policy that the Kiwis have understood
The Asia-Pacific region has been split in half on how best to handle vaping. The contrast is no greater than between Australia and New Zealand. Although the two countries are close cousins, they are miles apart when it comes to embracing tobacco harm reduction (THR) policies that work for their citizens.
Last year, New Zealand legalized and regulated vaping. Meanwhile, across Tasman, Australia passed regulations so that nicotine is only available through a prescription model. This not only has a significant impact on the 500,000 vapers in the country, but further limits access to 2.3 million daily smokers safer nicotine products. The human cost of this regulation could cost thousands of lives over the next decade.
It has long been illegal to sell liquid nicotine in Australia. However, mone of the australian vapers instead personally imported nicotine vaping liquids through foreign websites. From October 1, 2021, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) extends its model of prescription only with customs to repress at the border – which means that there is no more importation without a doctor’s prescription.
To prescribe nicotine, Australian doctors will need to either first contact the TGA to access the unapproved product or provide a script for three months or less for patients intending to access nicotine vape products through the Personal Import Program (PIS). So far, very few have registered under the PIS, despite the nicotine vaping in Australia rising from 9% in 2016 to 11% in 2019.
Director of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and world-renowned THR expert, Dr Alex Wodak AM, says it makes absolutely no sense to restrict the availability of vaping much more than deadly combustible cigarettes, which remain available for free. He notes that the decline in smoking rates has recently started to accelerate in vaping-friendly countries such as New Zealand. On the other hand, smoking rate in Australia have almost stagnated since 2013, despite aggressive tobacco control policies.
Rather than accept major international evidence, Australia is miles away from many others in the Asia-Pacific region when it comes to recognizing vaping’s key role in smoking cessation. Instead, the “lucky country” bowed down to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO, in turn, bowed down to the whims of their private sources of funding – who are neither health professionals nor scientists.
Recent research, reported around the world, confirmed that the WHO anti-vaping advice is seriously poisoned. The tantalizing cash streaks of American billionaires like Michael Bloomberg and their so-called philanthropic causes have not only targeted the WHO and a lot Governments, corn the universities, scientists, and researchers.
Despite safer nicotine products that save millions of lives each year, the WHO continues to deny the science, condemn safer alternatives. In fact, tackling nicotine, instead of combustible and dangerous oral tobacco, is now the latest goal of the WHO (and increasingly of the TGA as well). It just doesn’t make sense until you see the money at stake.
Not only are there multi-million dollar grants with conditions, Australia has the highest tobacco excise rate in the world. Do you think the Australian governments want to lose this? Continued increases have made tobacco excise the fourth-largest individual tax collected by the federal government at a $ 15 billion last year. However, thanks to COVID-19 to begin with, Treasury forecasters are now revising those numbers down for the next two years. You don’t have to be a proverbial scholar to see that blocking tobacco’s main rival can only help increase the tobacco excise revenues on which the Australian government increasingly depends.
So rather than being compared to New Zealand, UK, or even US, when it comes to THR policies, Australia is now aligned with India, Hong Kong, and Thailand. . It is despite all the global scientific evidence before the faces of the Australian public health facility and authorities that vaping is a very effective THR option.
For example, Australia Senate Inquiry into Tobacco Harm Reduction last year I heard from public health experts, tobacco treatment specialists and frontline health workers. They told the survey that a prescription model would never work and only bring vapers back to smoking. In the end, their evidence and experiences were completely ignored.
International evidence also discredits Australian Minister of Health Greg Hunt says the ban will be aimed “at avoiding a ramp for non-smokers, especially young people.” Quite the opposite is happening. Vaping is not a gateway to smoking among young people, but one of the main offramps for adult smokers.
It is humiliating for Australian ex-smokers and those desperate to quit smoking to have to seek medical advice and a prescription to access much less harmful nicotine vaping products. It makes no sense to ban products that are 95% less harmful than cigarettes, when Australian smokers can buy a pack of cigarettes at any gas station or supermarket on a whim. October’s decision will only expand the already huge black market for nicotine vape liquids.
Vaping has been key to bringing the overall smoking rate in New Zealand to a low record 12%. The country’s district health councils and Maori health vaping programs to quit continue to get amazing results. Most importantly, the New Zealand government has listened to the evidence and organizations at the âcoalfaceâ of smoking cessation. Maori and Pasifika have been closely consulted on what works for them, which in turn can only help the country achieve its ten-year smoke-free national ambition.
To conclude, how did two countries so close – both geographically and sociologically – come so far apart when it comes to implementing the best policies to reduce their respective rates of disease and death related to smoking? Australia unfortunately fell into the hands of greed and allowed US billionaires to dictate its health policy – in the interest of the money for programs as well as out of fear of losing research funding. Ultimately, that is what is at stake here: money for health, money for ethics. New Zealand has also suffered its fair share of undue foreign interference, but the difference is that it has listened to its people as to which path would be most effective in achieving the collective goal.
Nancy Loucas is the Executive coordinator of the Coalition of Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates in Asia-Pacific.