A recent study published in the Internal Medicine Journal of the Royal Australian College of Physicians, reviews the latest scientific evidence on e-cigarettes, and concludes that since the devices are proven to be effective smoking cessation aids, doctors should be recommending them to smokers who are struggling to quit.
The study was carried out by UNSW Conjoint Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn, a renowned harm reduction advocate, who has been at the forefront of the battle against unreasonable e-cig regulations in Australia.
Down under, e-cigarette devices are legal, but the use of nicotine-containing refills is not. In August 2016, several public health activists, amongst which the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA), had submitted proposals to local regulator Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), to remove nicotine concentrations of below 3.6% from the Poisons Standard.
However, in February 2017, the TGA rejected the application and upheld the nicotine ban. “The TGA is essentially saying to the hundreds of thousands of Australians who have already quit smoking by using e-cigarettes: You quit the wrong way. We are not going to let you do this. But you can go and buy a pack of smokes, no problem.” said Dr. Attila Danko from NNA AU, at the time.
In order to be able to purchase nicotine-containing e-liquids, Australian smokers who wish to switch need to first obtain prescription from a doctor, and then find a pharmacy that actually sells the liquids. However ironically, buying a packet of deadly cigarettes that are known to be much more harmful than vaping products, is very easily done over the counter.
Significant scientific data in favour of e-cigs for smoking cessation
In his review of the latest scientific evidence on e-cigarettes, Professor Mendelsohn, referred to a number of studies which took place in the US and the UK, where the devices are widely available and associated with decreased smoking rates.
Mendelsohn also referred to the 2016 report by the Royal College of Physicians in the UK which had concluded that despite not completely harmless, vaping is thought to be at least 95% safer than smoking. This figure was in fact confirmed earlier this year when Public Health England (PHE), released findings from an e-cigarette review that was conducted by leading independent tobacco experts.
“Medical practitioners have a duty of care to provide the best possible management at each encounter,” said Mendelsohn. “With-holding a legitimate treatment option that could prevent a life-threatening illness is a breach of that obligation.”
“For patients who have repeatedly failed to quit smoking with conventional strategies an e-cigarette is a legitimate, evidence-based option for reducing harm. Their use could lead to substantial improvements in public health in Australia,” he added.
Sadly, smoking rates in Australia have risen by over 21,000 to 2.4 million between 2013 and 2016, and Mendelsohn attributes this to the approach that local authorities are taking. “For the first time ever, there has been no statistically significant reduction in the smoking rate, and an increase in the number of smokers in Australia,” said Mendelsohn last Summer, whilst pointing out that for the first time ever, smoking rates in Australia have exceeded those in the US. “This is despite plain packaging and the most expensive cigarette prices in the world.”
Smoking rates have decreased where e-cigs have been endorsed
Inline with this study, a few months back, Australian doctors addressed the federal parliamentary committee pointing out that smokers should have access to vaping products that would give them the nicotine hit that they are addicted to, without the other harmful components contained in cigarette smoke.
The speakers had told the committee how smoking rates have drastically decreased in countries where vaping was either endorsed, such as in the UK, or where nicotine-containing e-liquids are at least available, such as in the US. They also mentioned that the theories that vaping either normalizes (or acts as a gateway to) smoking, have been proven unsound. However, in a recent statement Health Minister Greg Hunt has stubbornly insisted that he will never lift the ban on the devices.
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