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Dr. Colin Mendelsohn - E-cigarettes will save lives and should not be illegal in Australia

July 31, 2016

Dr. Colin Mendelsohn - E-cigarettes will save lives and should not be illegal in Australia

Read Dr. Colin Mendelsohn's compelling articles on e-cigarette use in Australia


"How should regulation be applied in Australia?

Prohibition is not working in Australia, and it is easy to purchase nicotine online or through a thriving black market. The federal government has commissioned a discussion paper to guide e-cigarette policy, prepared by the Public Health Unit at the University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW, both of which have previously expressed negative views on e-cigarettes. Also of concern is that the process is shrouded in secrecy and is only taking advice by invitation.

Decisions on how to regulate e-cigarettes should be based on evidence, not on ideology, politics or other bias. Some organisations have been historically locked into a single-minded focus of destroying tobacco companies, cigarettes and nicotine. It can be difficult to see that using nicotine to reduce harm may now be part of the solution. Our priority should be to reduce the health risks for current smokers, of whom two out of three will die as a result of their habit.

Overseas research has found that many of the concerns raised about e-cigarettes are not grounded in evidence. E-cigarettes are much safer than smoking and have helped millions of smokers to quit. There is no evidence of a "gateway" (that e-cigarettes lead non-smokers to smoking) or that they "renormalise" smoking in the community – vaping is almost exclusively confined to smokers and recent ex-smokers.

E-cigarettes should be regulated, but in a proportionate way that reflects their real level of risk. It is irrational to apply severe restrictions to a much safer product while allowing widespread access to deadly cigarettes. Well-intended but inappropriate regulation could have harmful unintended consequences, such as reducing the appeal of e-cigarettes, slowing product innovation and raising costs. This could have the perverse effect of protecting the cigarette trade and leading to more smoking.

E-cigarettes should be regulated as consumer products, not as tobacco or medicines. Consumer law ensures that products are safe and fit for purpose, and will allow e-cigarettes to compete favourably in the marketplace with the much more dangerous tobacco products. Appropriate light-touch regulations include:

  • Child resistant containers
  • Accurate labelling
  • No advertising or sale to people under 18 years
  • Low or no taxes to maintain a competitive advantage over tobacco
  • Good manufacturing practice, with safe, high-quality ingredients
  • Appropriate marketing practices

The right balance of regulations could substantially improve public health and save hundreds of thousands of Australian lives. We cannot afford to get it wrong."