Smoking tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death and illness in Australia, killing an estimated 15,000 people annually. Overall population growth has kept the raw toll so tragically high, but it would be far worse were it not for the internationally feted success of the long-running Quit campaign and other measures, including tax-driven price hikes, in reducing the adult smoking rate to about 10 per cent from around 30 per cent in the 1980s and more than 50 per cent in the 1970s.
Research shows that two out of three lifetime smokers will die as a result of their addiction. The deaths and illnesses are caused by the delivery method – smoking – rather than directly by nicotine, the highly addictive drug tobacco contains. So, anything that can relatively safely help people quit using tobacco merits consideration; harm minimisation is the goal.
Having lost its vexatious case (plus costs) against the Australian government over groundbreaking plain-packaging laws, which have been adopted elsewhere, and with its current products literally killing its client base, tobacco giant Philip Morris has launched a new lobbying onslaught. It wants the government to legalise nicotine e-cigarettes, which deliver the drug in a cloud of vapour, rather than in a cloud of smoke.
Those who use this product, legal in a growing numbers of countries, are called vapers, and many of them testify that e-cigarettes have helped them stop smoking and have greatly improved their health and fitness.
The counter-argument is that health experts here and overseas believe the potential risks of frequently drawing particle-carrying vapour into one’s lungs are yet to be fully assessed. The situation is being examined by a parliamentary committee, which is being bombarded with pro forma submissions from vapers encouraged by Philip Morris. In Australia, e-cigarettes are legal, but using nicotine refills in them is not. The health authorities are concerned e-cigarettes might prolong an addiction to smoking, or be a gateway to tobacco, particularly for young people.
Further complicating the issue is that there are nicotine replacement methods – including patches, lozenges and oral sprays – that have been proven to be safe routes to quitting smoking.
This article was originally published by The Age.