It’s 2017. As vaping gathers steam, smoking in the U.S. and U.K. has dropped to record low levels. Canada and France are considering regulation that recognizes vaping as a valuable harm reduction strategy. Around the world, things are looking up.
But not in Australia.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration announced yesterday that nicotine would remain illegal in e-cigarettes — and perfectly legal in combustible cigarettes. The 2.6 million smokers in Oz are being told by their government that they’re free to quit or die. Without nicotine.
Last year when the New Nicotine Alliance-Australia proposed that the federal government legalize nicotine in e-cigarettes, vapers were optimistic that change might be around the corner. Offering Australia’s smokers a low-risk alternative seemed like a real possibility.
Well-known smoking cessation experts and harm reduction advocates like Prof. Colin Mendelsohn and Alex Wodak were on board. A letter from 40 high-powered experts was sent to the government, and support poured in from around the world.
But Australia also boasts the highest number of prohibitionist public health nannies per capita in the world. The just-say-no anti-pleasure contingent down under is large and loud, and they didn’t sit still while a bunch of …addicts demanded rights. The wrote editorials and took to the airwaves to warn the Australian public about the Big Tobacco plot to addict a new generation.
And it worked. Simon Chapman spent the day gloating publicly, trotting out his favorite red herring. “The tobacco industry will unanimously condemn this decision,” said Chapman. “This is all anyone needs to know about why it should be welcomed.”
But the jig may be up for the puritans like Simon Chapman. This near miss by the NNA created a lot of discussion, and minds are changing. People are learning that vaping isn’t a plot by Big Tobacco, and that it can help smokers. The word is spreading, and the public health safety patrol can’t dominate opinion forever.
“The problem is that the Australian public health establishment — God bless its cotton socks — is crippled by caution,” wrote Joe Hildebrand yesterday. “The peak bodies are worried there is still insufficient evidence about the potential harm of e-cigarettes. They are waiting for more research. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting.”
Hildebrand, an Australian columnist and TV personality, quit smoking with e-cigs. A typical story to vapers, but one that needs to be heard more often by the public. When an influential writer makes a compelling case, a few more dominoes fall.
Today it’s against the law to vape nicotine in Australia. But opinion is changing. The cat’s out of the bag. Vapers need to keep arguing our case at every opportunity, persuading friends and family, co-workers and neighbors. We all know people whose lives have been improved — and maybe even saved — by vaping. Spread the word.