Australia: Where Sharks and Crocs Aren’t the Deadliest Creatures

Do the prohibitionist tobacco controllers down under have their minds made up on vaping?

Austrailian Flag

The A-Team

Nicotine is classified as a poison in Australia — except the nicotine in combustible cigarettes, that is. Possessing it without a prescription is illegal, and that’s made vaping a fairly hit-or-miss enterprise. Legal vendors sell zero-nic e-liquid exclusively, and vapers order nicotine from outside the country to mix themselves. Naturally, this has led to relatively low uptake of vaping by smokers.

However, there has been some outcry in recent years and because of that, and due to e-cigarettes being a generally hot topic everywhere, the Australian Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs commissioned a review on Australian e-cigarette policy last year. They chose a team of “experts,” a group both curious and expected.

Terry Barnes of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a British libertarian think tank, described the review team in a blog post:
Simon Chapman needs no introduction.  The goateed guru of tobacco control, media public health go-to person and spare-time Twitter troll is no friend of harm reduction, being stridently protective of his patch. He has picked fights with, and ridiculed, pro-vaping research, researchers and advocates from the Lancet and British Medical Journal to social media.

Project lead Becky Freeman is his protégée and self-described “established authority on the potential of the internet to circumvent tobacco advertising laws”.  Blyth O’Hara is an expert on physical activity, nutrition and obesity, who has tweeted enthusiastically in favour of a sugar tax on the poor.

Scott Walsberger “leads a passionate (NSW Cancer Council) team to reduce the burden of tobacco on the people of NSW”.  Bill Bellew boasts of his “Leadership…in capacity building for evidence-informed policy around the spectrum of public health issues…through tobacco control and other population health strategies”.  Adrian Bauman is a “world-leading” obesity expert with strong World Health Organisation connections.

And James Kite is NSW president of the Australian Health Promotion Association which, in its submission to the Leyonhjelm Nanny State inquiry, said: “Based on current evidence, it appears as though E-cigarettes are harmful (though not as harmful as tobacco cigarettes), are attractive to younger people, and have more of a ‘gateway’ effect (introducing young people to tobacco smoking) than a quitting effect.”  His views seem pretty decided.

Simon Says No…to Vaping

No Vaping

Simon Chapman has been a thorn in vapers’ sides since…well, forever. A mainstay of the Puritan prohibitionist branch of tobacco control — the biggest branch, exemplified by Stanton Glantz — Chapman has made enough reckless and irresponsible statements about e-cigs that there could be no doubt where he would stand on the issue. Which raises the question, why would anyone seeking objective information choose him to provide it?

Well, they wouldn’t. No one would choose Chapman unless they had already decided they wanted a hatchet job. As Barnes says, “The health department chose its team well if its agenda is to suppress e-cigarettes and vaping.” The government picked a group of anti-nicotine, anti-vaping zealots, and no one should be a bit surprised at what is produced by them. Chapman has certainly never been shy about his opinions on vaping — or vapers.



They created a discussion paper to be used in the course of closed (of course) consultations, which has been leaked and can be seen now by anyone. The title of the paper alone — Options to minimise the risks associated with the marketing and use of electronic nicotine delivery systems [ENDS] in Australia — gets the point across nicely. They have no intention of letting anyone get in the way of their tobacco “endgame,” or even allowing vapers to have a modest say in their own futures. In fact, no vapers were asked for their opinions at all.

The review is still in progress, which makes it a tad inappropriate that Prof. Chapman has decided to abandon all pretense of objectivity and simply publicize his opinions on the topic preemptively elsewhere. In a commissioned editorial in The Medical Journal of Australia, he (along with friendly fellow prohibitionist “experts” Martin McKee and Mike Daube) shows all the signs of a man who has already made up his mind, and doesn’t care who knows it.

“Public Health England extensively promoted a message that e-cigarettes were “95% safer” than combustible cigarettes,6 a claim based not on empirical evidence but upon a single reference to a meeting that was attended by researchers who were mostly known supporters of e-cigarettes, and partially funded by an organisation with links to the tobacco industry.” That’s Chapman’s deceitful description of the 2015 Public Health England review. Does that sound like an objective voice, ready to carefully review the evidence on vaping?

As Terry Barnes writes, “Professor Chapman is entitled to his on-the-record views, and to advocate them as he sees fit. What he has done, however, is pre-empt the conclusions of the expensive policy review of which he is a part, and presumably is the driving force. That is very unfortunate. That taxpayer-funded policy review, and any claims for its impartiality and open-mindedness, have now has been fatally compromised and, as for the consultations with invited experts that have been going on for some time, why on earth is the review team bothering if they’ve already decided what they’ll recommend?”

What can vapers do to help now?

Please Help

Join the NNA!  Australian vapers need to get serious and get organized. The good people at the New Nicotine Alliance-Australia are doing their best. They have gotten attention and made strides, but they need money, and they need members. Fighting an entrenched tobacco control industry is going to be a long struggle, especially since Australian tobacco control essentially has the government wrapped around its fingers.

Help Vince!  There’s also a sad job that vapers need to finish in Australia — and vapers everywhere in the world can help with this. After his house was raided by the authorities in 2011, Vincent Van Heerden was convicted in 2014 in the state of Western Australia of selling vapor products — not because they contained nicotine, but because they looked like cigarettes. Sounds funny, and it would be if it weren’t absolutely true. According to ABC, “the court ruled e-cigarettes not containing nicotine still breached the tobacco control act, which prohibits any ‘food, toy or other product’ that looks like a cigarette or cigar.”

He appealed his conviction, and after two years the appeal was finally denied. He is now on the hook for court costs and legal expenses that he cannot possibly afford to pay. Nor can he continue to appeal the case without substantial additional funds. At this point, in fact, an appeal is probably out of the question.

He’s just trying to prevent the state from taking his house.

Vince stood up for vaping like few ever have. He gave everything to fight the ridiculous laws in Western Australia, and now he’s struggling to avoid being bankrupted and destroyed. There’s almost no one reading this that couldn’t afford to send something to this guy who’s given everything he has to help smokers and vapers, so let’s help out and spread the word.

Please help Vince today!

Jim McDonald
I spend most of my time studying the regulatory, legislative and scientific challenges to vaping, advocating for our right to exist, and talking with others who do the same. Consider me a source for information, and feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say. I love good coffee and sweet Michigan cherries. My childhood hero was Gordie Howe.
  • John Adams

    We’re screwed.

  • Jeremy Woods

    As an Australian it’s really demoralising to experience these restrictions first-hand. I was a pack a day smoker until I moved to Canada for a snow season (which has subsequently turned into a near 3 year stay) which is when I first got into vaping as an alternative. I’ve been of cigarettes for two and a half years thanks to vaping with the only exception being, coincidentally, when I returned to Australia for a 2 month visit and could no longer gain access to juice containing nicotine.

    There are definitely vendors attempting to get around the regulations but it’s backyard at best and the restrictions on juice importation means that most juice you can get is also backyard at best. You would think that this sort of situation would be what the government is attempting to prevent but with their archaic regulations they are ironically endangering the very people they are trying to “protect”.

    I don’t think that it’s really any secret that they have outlawed it due to the drop in revenue they would make if the amount of smokers in Australia dropped in a transition to vaping alternatives. The Australian government receives around $8 billion a year from tobacco taxing and with a theoretical shift in the market, they wouldn’t make nearly the same amount of revenue as they would if people stuck to smoking.

    Vaping really is a big part of my life now, it’s something I’m passionate about and enjoy. I work in a vape shop here in Canada and it’s just a shame that I can’t translate that passion back home because it’s a relatively unknown and unaccepted thing both by the public and the governing bodies.

    Without education can’t come acceptance and with the head-in-the-sand mentality that the powers at be have over the entire industry it will unfortunately not change any time in the foreseeable future.

    I hope I’m wrong though.

    • Jim McDonald

      Thanks for your excellent comment! With the FDA deeming regs, unless we find a solution in the courts or Congress, American vapers are headed for a future very much like Australia’s current situation.