Australia and New Zealand could be about to overturn an irrational and unethical regime within their own borders and grasp what has been described as “one of the most important public health opportunities of the 21st century”.
In NZ, the Ministry of Health is working through suggestions received in response to its request for ways to make vaping legal while ensuing public safety and pointing smokers towards e-cigarettes as a means of stopping their dangerous habit.
In Australia, the TGA has taken a small step towards a more rational approach after the New Nicotine Alliance politely asked it to consider making nicotine legal for use in e-cigarettes – personal vaporisers, as they are often known here.
In both cases, a positive outcome would be a victory for common sense but also one that will defeat some real mediaeval thinking on public health and the responsibilities of government.
Many of the arguments on whether vaping is legitimately so much safer (“more than 95 percent,” says the UK's top public health body) and a gateway away from smoking combustible cigarettes have been of the order of European witch trials of old, a kind of “if you survived, you must be guilty” approach.
The motivations of those opposed to legalising ENDS (the World Health Organization's own catch-all acronym for electronic nicotine delivery systems) have been analysed globally and locally, but remain unclear.
There isn't a smoker out there who hasn't heard it's a really bad idea to smoke. But still more than 2.8 million adult Aussies are smoking, not to mention more than 600,000 Kiwis. Many want to quit because they fear the consequences in the form of poor health and – according to the stats – because more than half of them will die earlier than if they didn't smoke.
Giving up is not easy. Many people try and few succeed. Don't forget though that there are many who fear the health dangers but still actually enjoy their ciggie. Take a bow, nicotine – the substance in tobacco that people smoke for.
Let's have a couple of facts here. Look them up if you don't believe them, but they are gospel. First, nicotine does NOT cause cancer. It's addictive, true, and can under certain bizarre circumstances (for example, if you inject it into the bloodstream) be toxic. But for all purposes it's no more harmful than caffeine, to which it is chemically quite similar, and nicotine provides a similar pleasant feeling of well-being for people that use it.
Nicotine is present in tobacco leaf, but it's also in tomatoes, broccoli and numerous other vegetables – not in such large quantities, true, but it's still there, so banning it altogether would put a crimp in your local greengrocer's day. It's even in eggplants (melanzane; aubergine), would you believe – see this great take from Greece about panic that ensues when they get banned!
Thing is, if you don't set fire to it, nicotine is practically harmless in the sort of quantities used in an e-cigarette, so if you can somehow get your taste of nicotine without actually burning the tobacco around it, you can suddenly reduce the dangers to less than 5 percent of cigarettes, as public-health organisations elsewhere have accepted and now promote.
Some people manage to quit smoking using nicotine chewing gum, which is on open sale; but gums are known to have a high rate of failure in terms of helping people to stop long-term. Partly this is because the nicotine takes quite a while to get anywhere where it can have an effect.
The big advantage of personal vaporisers is that they enable the nicotine – now vaporised as a kind of steam (technically it's known as an 'aerosol') to get straight to the lungs very quickly indeed so users get instant effect.
In England last year some 2.5 million adults tried to quit smoking. More than one million of these brave souls used e-cigarettes as part of their attempt, around 30 percent more than those who used chewing gum to help them. In total, just over half a million succeeded in stopping smoking long-term.
Big numbers. Public Health England, a government body, says the number of quit attempts is an all-time record. It also says the number of e-cigarette users is at a record. More people are successfully using e-cigarettes to get away from something that is more than likely to kill them before their time.
Just which bit of this do Australia's public health authorities not understand? Or to put it another way, why does Australia disregard and even deny the accuracy of data from the UK and other countries that say personal vaporisers have a massive role to play in helping our smokers get away from burning tobacco and the attendant deadly smoke. LET US SWITCH!
Vaping – does it matter if a few hoons and looney tunes are allowed to cloud-chase or not?
Well, yes, actually – because it's an issue that affects not just a few who want to look cool or start a new trend. It's about providing a new technology that really helps ordinary people to stop smoking.
Simple really – an estimated 15 percent of smokers already vape. But most of them are doing so more or less illegally because the public health authorities are dragging their feet and refusing to acknowledge the vast body of evidence now stacked up in favour of allowing people to SWITCH FROM SMOKING TO VAPING.