A Victorian doctor is calling for an end to confusing and contradictory laws restricting the use of electronic cigarettes, arguing that they have the potential to save the lives of smokers struggling to kick the habit.
Attila Danko, an emergency department doctor from Ballarat, has established the New Nicotine Alliance Australia, modelled on the similarly titled British lobby group, in a bid to counter a “misinformation campaign” about the risks of e-cigarettes.
The group has latched on to landmark research released last week by Public Health England, an independent arm of Britain’s Department of Health, which found e-cigarettes — battery-powered vaporisers that stimulate smoking, but without tobacco combustion — were about 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes.
It also found most of the country’s 2.6 million e-cigarette users were ex-smokers trying to give up, with no evidence that young people were being drawn into the habit — a commonly cited fear.
“This compelling report confirms the weight of reliable scientific evidence that e-cigarettes save lives,” Dr Danko said.
“Its message is clear: e-cigarettes help people stop tobacco smoking and Australian smokers should legally have that option.”
While there are no laws banning the use of e-cigarettes in Australia, laws relating to poisons, medicines and tobacco control complicate their regulation.
For example, where a nicotine e-cigarette is for a therapeutic use, such as stopping smoking, the device must by registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the liquid nicotine can be obtained only with a prescription.
However, there are no TGA-approved e-cigarettes and doctors have typically been reluctant to provide a prescription for an unapproved product.
Adding to the confusion, importing e-cigarettes for personal use is permitted, yet liquid nicotine is classified as a “Schedule 7 Dangerous Poison”, making possession without a current prescription a serious offence.
Several states, including South Australia and Western Australia, have banned the sale of non-nicotine e-cigarettes, which often contain fruit-flavoured liquids. NSW and Tasmania are considering tightening regulation of e-cigarettes.
A smoker for more than 30 years, Dr Danko said he had “given up on giving up” when he switched from tobacco to using, or “vaping”, nicotine e-cigarettes three years ago.
The 47-year-old has a prescription and imports from overseas but said it was absurd a person required a prescription for e-cigarettes yet could buy significantly more harmful tobacco over the retail counter: “It sends a strong message that the government would rather you smoke cigarettes.”
In Britain, stop-smoking services are being urged to consider recommending e-cigarettes as a tool for smokers attempting to quit, but Cancer Council Australia and the National Heart Foundation have publicly cautioned against the promotion of e-cigarettes, noting that the health effects were still unknown.