The latest from Oz: vapers, the Senate, and Simon’s smears

Hear the latest from Oz, where zealots like Simon Chapman are losing their grip

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Note: this article is meant to provide background information for those reading Dr. Attila Danko’s guest editorial on Vaping360. As always, vapers around the world support the efforts of Australian vapers and smokers to make low-risk nicotine products legal and widely available.

Australian vapers are speaking up again

Australian vapers have until August 4 to submit their comments to the Australian Senate, which is conducting an inquiry into the Vaporised Nicotine Products Bill 2017. The bill would legalize nicotine in vapor and heat-not-burn (HNB) products.

Vapers can follow directions here to make their submissions. Comments can be submitted online, by email, or through the mail. Even though admitting nicotine use technically makes one a criminal, more than 300 comments have been registered so far by the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport.

Australian vapers have shown themselves to be brave, dogged fighters for the rights that have been denied them. “We are all heroes,” wrote Dr. Attila Danko of the New Nicotine Alliance-Australia (NNA-AU), “facing down those fears so that the voice of ordinary people hurting under a regime of prohibition could be heard. The voice of ordinary people who just want the right to save their own lives by switching to vaping instead of smoking.”

Clive Bates has dedicated a blog entry to highlighting some of the notable submissions to Parliament. There are a lot of good ones.

The good guys and the bad guys

Nicotine is currently classified as a dangerous poison in Australia, a position the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) reaffirmed in February. Possession and use of nicotine is illegal in Australia — except, of course, in combustible cigarettes.

Vaping advocates have worked tirelessly to remedy the situation. The recent TGA decision was in response to a proposal by the NNA-AU to legalize nic. That effort included a letter submitted by 40 Australian and international experts supporting the reclassification of nicotine, organized by Dr. Mendelsohn.

The NNA-AU has received a lot of help from smoking cessation expert Mendelsohn, an MD and associate professor at the University of New South Wales. Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation head Dr. Alex Wodak has also been outspoken on the need for reduced-risk nicotine product availability, and the power of a vaping community centered around vape shops.

But they have powerful adversaries in the tobacco control and medical establishments. Australia is home to perhaps the most virulent strain of anti-nicotine fever in the world, exemplified by retired Prof. Simon Chapman — a sociologist and advertising expert.

Chapman has dedicated his golden years to maintaining the current state of nicotine prohibition in Oz. As a hobby, he trolls vapers on Twitter, and publishes insulting responses to anyone who dares disagree with his venomous snark.

Chapman’s anti-vaping crusade has degenerated to smearing the regular people who’ve taken the trouble to comment to the Senate inquiry. An email from Philip Morris International (PMI) to its Australian mailing list urging submissions to the inquiry was used by Chapman as supposed evidence that all Australian vaping advocacy is an astroturf scam by Big Tobacco.

It would be laughable, except that some gullible Australian health groups are falling for it.

“They’ve been actively recruiting people to put in submissions,” Chapman said, referring to PMI. “These are exactly the same tactics they used for plain packaging. They have dusted off the same software, the same template and just changed the content.”

It would be laughable, except that some gullible Australian health groups are falling for it. Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon has certainly swallowed Chapman’s bait. The AMA ‘s comments to the Senate inquiry were so full of errors and baseless assertions, they inspired Boston University tobacco control expert Dr. Michael Siegel to say that the Australian docs have abandoned all concern about smokers’ lives.

“In other words, this really isn’t about helping smokers and reducing the morbidity and mortality from smoking-related diseases,” wrote Siegel. “This is instead about protecting the world from the scourge of addiction itself, without regard to the impact of these statements and policies on the lives of smokers.”

At least one Australian medical organization is standing against Chapman’s anti-tobacco straw man. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) submitted comments to the Senate inquiry supporting consumer regulation of nicotine-containing e-cigs, saying they “should not be regulated as medicines, as this would present significant regulatory barriers for their production and distribution. Nor should they be regulated as tobacco products which might similarly restrict their availability”.

Get mad. Then do something about it

As you read Dr. Danko’s editorial, feel free to get mad. Simon Chapman and the relics at the AMA are playing their last desperate hand by accusing vapers of being tools of Big Tobacco. It’s getting very tired.

Christopher Snowdon wrote about Chapman’s ploy recently. “Chanting the words ‘big tobacco’ over and over again will not change that. Describing vapers as ‘astroturfers’ and ‘trolls’ will not disguise the fact that e-cigarettes have the support of many respected doctors and medical organisations. The magic words are losing their power. The trick is getting old. The spell is wearing off”.

Vapers in Australia are getting stronger. Still, it would be nice to see another 500 submissions come in to the Senate inquiry before August 4. If you know a vaper who hasn’t submitted yet, help them get it done. Do it for all the smokers who need and want to finally try vaping. Do it for yourself. And do it for Simon too. There’s nothing he deserves more.

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.