THE DEBATE IN AUSTRALIA
Some experts are critical of Australian authorities’ hard-line approach against e-cigarettes, especially as health organisations in the EU, UK and New Zealand seem more open to them as a harm-reduction tool compared with tobacco. In fact, the Royal College of Physicians in the UK says they “appear to be effective” as a smoking cessation tool.
It’s a view that some Aussie doctors aren’t entirely opposed to, with Dr Colin Mendelsohn, an associate professor of public health at the University of New South Wales, telling the ABC: “We have a very large population of smokers who can’t quit with what we’re currently doing.”
However, Maurice Swanson, president of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, doesn’t believe e-cigarettes are the solution.
“It’s very premature to calculate predictions on the harms of vaping compared to cigarettes, due to relatively few high-quality studies, the absence of long-term follow-up, lack of standardised testing methods and rapid changes in e-cigarette products,” he says.
“Because cigarettes are the most harmful legal product that’s available to consumers, everything will appear ‘less damaging’ in comparison, he adds. “E-cigarette aerosol is a mixture of ultra-fine particles of metals, nicotine, and other ingredients such as flavouring and glycols. The long-term health effects or safety of inhaling these substances as aerosol hasn’t been evaluated.”
Swanson is also concerned with the manner in which e-cigarettes are being presented to younger potential smokers.
“The major international tobacco companies own all the top e-cigarette brands and these companies have a vested interest in continuing to promote smoking behaviour and products among young people,” he explains. “E-cigarette marketing mirrors the glamourising tactics that were previously used by tobacco companies.”
For now, it’s a case of approaching e-cigarettes with extreme caution – that’s the stance of Professor Christine Jenkins, chairwoman of the Lung Foundation Australia.
“We recognise that in the short term, e-cigarettes may be less harmful than cigarette smoking and understand there’s a push for e-cigarettes to play a role in smoking cessation,” she says. “But the evidence for their effectiveness in smoking cessation isn’t yet established. It’s time to focus on supporting the uptake of the tried and tested methods of smoking cessation.”