14 Dec

It Looks Like Smoke, But Where is the Fire Over Electronic Cigarettes?

In Western Australia it is legal to sell cigarettes filled with tar and other nasties that contribute to millions of deaths each year, yet electronic cigarettes – even those designed to be used with substances made of oils and organic compounds – are now outlawed.

Isn’t this effectively sending the message that it is OK to smoke but not to pretend to smoke?

The Health Department pursued a case against a man who set up a website to sell e-cigarettes online to make some extra cash – a case that earlier this year saw the man convicted and fined for breaching the Tobacco Products Control Act 2006 (WA).

E-cigarettes cannot legally be marketed to be used in aiding quitting smoking.

It also sent a message that selling e-cigarettes is illegal in WA.

Vincent van Heerend’s conviction surrounded a section of the Act that outlaws selling products designed to resemble cigarettes.

I understand the point of the section of law, I don’t want to see my nieces sucking on toy cigarettes, imitating adult smokers but where is the common sense?

I’d have a different opinion on e-cigarettes plastered with images of tween heartthrobs One Direction on them, or musical e-ciggies that lit up and played Katy Perry’s Firework – but a product that has the possibility to help people quit an unhealthy habit and one that does not appear to be worse than the one it is imitating; at least consider regulating than banning it.

The judge in the test case specifically referred to the vapour from the e-cigarettes resembling smoke from a cigarette.

If this is the issue, I really hope the government pursues some sort of legal case or implements some sort of regulation in regard to another big offender in that same stream.

A couple of mornings earlier in the week, when the temperature got down to about 2 degrees, I walked from the car park to the office exhaling what looked like smoke – at the rate of a chain smoker, mind you – no one should have to deal with that.

My frost-breath is not likely to get me in any trouble any time soon; neither is using e-cigarettes in your own home, as their use is not illegal.

Comprehensive studies into the impact of e-cigarettes on human health have not been done.

While the jury is still out on what health effects e-cigarettes without nicotine in could have, one would assume that vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol could be a slightly healthier option than tobacco and tar.

E-cigarettes cannot legally be marketed to be used in aiding quitting smoking as they have not been assessed by the Therapeutic Goods Authority but anecdotal evidence suggests there could be something there.

I’ve come across a number of people who swear by these things as a way to reduce their nicotine intake or get off smoking completely.

I’ve been told that smokers still physically go through a similar routine that they do when they have a real cigarette, even though they might be taking in less or no nicotine.

The increasing prevalence of e-cigarettes in the community could also make smoking bans a complex issue.

A smoking ban in Perth’s Hay and Murray street malls came in to effect last year and the City of Perth confirmed local law prohibits smoking of any tobacco product in these areas.

A spokeswoman said “e-cigarettes are not a tobacco product and therefore the law does not prohibit their use” but the thing is, some of them are used to smoke tobacco.

However according to the Health Department, the use of e-cigarettes, whether they have nicotine in or not, must comply with laws on smoking in public places.

And even if the city was to allow the use of e-cigarettes without nicotine to be used within the malls, how are those who hand out fines meant to determine whether an e-cigarette has nicotine in it or not? I don’t think breathing in some of the smoke from them would be the healthiest of options.

Oddly enough, when chatting to tobacco store staff I was told that patients from Royal Perth Hospital were actually encouraged to buy e-cigarettes.

A shop worker at a different outlet backed this up, saying some customers had been to RPH or were still patients there and had been advised by staff to get an e-cigarette.

The hospital patients said they used them to aid in quitting their smoking habit altogether, or to use the nicotine-free version so they can use it on the hospital grounds where smoking is banned.

A spokeswoman for RPH said while they could not verify “third party statements or advice provided to patients or visitors, e-cigarettes and other personal vaporisers for delivery of nicotine or other substances are not permitted” at the hospital.

However, if e-cigarettes are useful in helping people quit smoking and if smokers spend their cash on e-cigarettes and not so much on the traditional product, how would the federal government cope without its own addiction to the revenue that Big Tobacco generates?