Western Australia has led the country in banning e-cigarettes, even those which do not contain nicotine.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) will hold a tobacco control meeting in Moscow in October to debate the merits of electronic cigarettes, with some doctors arguing in favour of the product.
While many users claim the e-cigarettes, which allow them to inhale a vapour without the smoke, help them to cut down their tobacco habit, Australian health experts are questioning their value.
Last month the Supreme Court of Western Australia ruled that e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine still breached the tobacco control act which prohibits any “food, toy or other product” looking like a cigarette or cigar.
Talkback caller to 720 ABC Perth, Mohammed, said he felt that an e-cigarette had helped him with a 27-year chain-smoking habit.
“About three months ago I switched to the e-cigarette and I haven’t touched a normal cigarette since,” he said.
“My breathing has improved, my sleeping has improved. There is no smell on my clothes or car.
“I’m looking forward to giving up. I have tried all those other things like patches and chewing gum, but they never helped. This is the only thing that kept me off cigarettes.”
E-cigarettes not approved as quitting aids
Dr Tarun Weeramanthri, the executive director of public health at the WA Health Department, said that while further research is welcome, there is no evidence to date the e-cigarettes work any better that other nicotine replacements.
“E-cigarettes have been around since the 1960s but despite the claims for them, they are not registered in Australia as a quitting aid,” he said.
“Some people will say the devices helped them quit, but when we look at the evidence, many more people just keep smoking e-cigarettes and normal cigarettes.
“The long term trials haven’t been that conclusive about the effectiveness of e-cigarettes in quitting.”
What has changed, Dr Weeramanthri, is that e-cigarettes have become a bigger business, particularly in Europe, where seven million people use them.
“What has happened in the last couple of years is the big tobacco companies have been buying up e-cigarette companies.
If you look at Europe, where millions of people do use e-cigarettes, they are promoted just like old fashioned cigarettes.
“There is massive advertising and promotion around them and there is evidence that, in some countries, they are being marketed at children.
“That’s what we want to avoid at all costs.”