Attila Danko | 16 February 2017
I wrote earlier this month about the TGA’s rejection of our application to legalise low-strength nicotine for vaping. Since then we have taken our campaign forwards.
A team of three consumer vaping advocates from the NNA AU, myself, Donna Darvill and Andrew Thompson, along with two specialists in harm reduction, Dr Colin Mendelsohn and Dr Alex Wodak, spent a day in Parliament House Canberra. We had multiple meetings with Members of Parliament, Senators and staffers from across the political spectrum.
The idea of tobacco harm reduction and the huge public health benefits of making smoking obsolete are gaining traction. We have politicians now who are committed to pushing this forward and increasing numbers that are supportive.
We also met with intractable opponents, and we appreciate that they gave us a fair hearing. However, they are feeling very much less sure of themselves whilst they try and reconcile the perceived wisdom given to them by ‘experts’ espousing anti-vaping ideology (highly concentrated in Australia) with the human rights abuse that the banning of nicotine vaping represents.
We were told by one opponent that a tobacco company lobbied very hard and aggressively to promote the legalisation of nicotine vaping several months before we begun the NNA AU. Associating with tobacco companies has long been political Kryptonite to many politicians, so they were convinced to ban vaping unless it was under medical regulation. They failed to understand the irony that this regulation would almost certainly exclude everyone else from the vaping market except Big Tobacco!
We were also told by an opponent of tobacco harm reduction that the decision to reject our application was unanimous. We therefore do not expect that the final decision of the TGA will be any different to the interim decision.
The myth that vaping advocates are shills for the tobacco industry or at least the vaping industry has finally been buried. Several of us with impeccable credentials have relationships with many politicians that long pre-date this campaign. We are seen as truthful witnesses, and this barrier to meeting with politicians has now crumbled.
The myth that e-cigarettes are tools for the tobacco industry to hook a new generation of smokers is taking longer to die, but it is increasingly fragile, with increasing evidence from overseas and the fact that not one e-cigarette sold in Australia comes from a tobacco company. Every sale of an e-cigarette in Australia represents a loss to the tobacco companies.
It is very uncomfortable to be confronted by the evidence that anti-vaping policies hurt real people who sit in front of you. It is very uncomfortable to be faced with the evidence that your policies help the very companies that disgust you. It is very uncomfortable that your policies could result in the arrest and punishment of people you have been friends with, simply because they can only stop smoking in a way that you have made illegal.
We succeeded in making politicians who have been manipulated to be shills for anti-vaping ideologists as uncomfortable as possible. At the same time we gave encouragement to the increasing number of politicians who accept that vaping is better than smoking, that this is a human rights priority and that action in the near term needs to be taken.
There are at least two other pathways outside our TGA application to legalising nicotine that are being pursued by our allies in Parliament.
At the end of the well-attended public meeting, an ordinary worker in Parliament rushed in to meet us, glad that she had made it just in time. Her husband has been a smoker for decades and she was desperate to find help for him to be able to quit through vaping, because all the other approved methods had failed. They are not familiar with social media or buying things online. With sadness we had to tell her that recent legislation had led to Canberra’s only vape shop closing down.
The obstacles to legalising nicotine for vaping in Australia are being knocked down, one by one. We have a powerful team from a diverse background with consumers at it’s core. The urgent need for reform is being recognised. It is increasingly recognised that lives are at stake. The anti-vaping ideologists are in retreat. We have hope that it may not be too long now.