Professor Wayne Hall, an Australian substance abuse expert and advisor to the World Health Organisation, has recently pleaded for moderation in policies on electronic cigarettes, comparing current restrictions with those on drugs like heroin and cocaine
Australian authorities have always taken a hard stance against electronic cigarettes. Nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes cannot be sold in the country legally, forcing users to order supplies from abroad, via internet. Recently, the New South Wales Parliament has voted to introduce new regulations, which include an overhaul of e-cigarette marketing and a ban on their use in cars with children present. Still, some members of Parliament and a number of reputed health experts believe even stricter rules need to be set in place to effectively protect the public from the hypothetical risks posed by electronic cigarettes.
But that is precisely what is wrong with current legislation, according to University of Queensland’s Professor Wayne Hall. “Laws are giving much higher priority to the interests of hypothetical smokers (who could take up smoking via e-cigarettes) at the expense of current, especially addicted, smokers,” he says. “A policy that bans a less harmful form of nicotine while still allowing the sale of cigarettes is inconsistent.”
Nicotine-containing cigarettes can only be sold legally in Australia for therapeutic purposes. They have to be registered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration , which involves an assessment of elements including the safety, quality and efficacy of the liquid nicotine and an assessment of the design of the electronic cigarette to ensure it is safe to use. If an e-liquid should meet the standards of the TGA, it would be available to consumers by prescription only. For this reason, there are currently no TGA registered e-cigs or e-liquids in Australia.
“We are told e-cigarettes will only be available to smokers as medicinal products to stop them smoking if clinical trials show them to be safe and effective,” Professor Wayne Hall says.”However, regulation as medicines may not be the best regulatory model and, until the products are approved as medicines, smokers must obtain them from the black market.”
In a way, this status quo puts electronic cigarettes in the same category as hard drugs. “Effectively, we are treating e-cigarettes like heroin or cocaine, and stifling any real research on their effectiveness,” Hall added.
Hall and a couple of colleagues at the University of Queensland – Dr Coral Gartner and Dr Cynthia Forlini – who recommend the legalization of electronic cigarettes in Australia are often labeled as “in the pay of the tobacco industry”, but the esteemed professor claims that it’s this kind of arguments that prevent a better understanding of ways of combating one of the world’s greatest causes of preventable death.
“I do not advocate laissez faire, but rather closely-regulated e-cigarette sales for current smokers as a step towards an increased regulation of the most harmful tobacco products – cigarettes,” Professor Hall says. “If research proves e-cigarettes are much safer than cigarettes and are an acceptable substitute, we would have a strong case for removing cigarettes from convenience stores and supermarkets.”