Guest Post: Terry Barnes Vaping: Reason and common sense will yet prevail

Having read The Cat’s excellent submission to the New Zealand government’s public consultations on its plans to legalise nicotine-containing E-cigarettes, I can say that the battle of logic and rationality with the flat-earthers who dominate policy thinking in Australia and New Zealand is well and truly joined.

In a space that is dominated by ad hominem slurs, fear-mongering and blatant evidence-denial and cherry-picking from those opposing the early adoption of vaping, the calm, rational policy case for the early adoption of disruptive harm reduction e-cigarette technology is finally making progress Down Under, as it long has in the UK and Europe.

It’s interesting to note that the Therapeutic Goods Administration announced last month it is considering an application to permit low-level quantities of nicotine in vaporising solutions for e-cigarettes, the most strident and self-righteous enemies of progress – public health go-to comment sources Simon Chapman and Mike Daube – have been pretty silent publicly.

But don’t think they’ve gone away.  I hear they are in the TGA’s ear opposing the nicotine application, organising submissions in their support, and are going all-out to ensure it’s rejected.  I also hear the TGA itself has sent the application for external evaluation, presumably to tame experts who’ll seek to demolish it.  In other words, it’s becoming an ideological circus and not a sober scientific application being assessed on its merits.

That the TGA also has received a detailed, evidence-backed submission signed by 40 leading experts on tobacco harm reduction in Australia and overseas, which makes a powerful and compelling case in support of the application’s science, no doubt will be whitewashed out of the picture in any way its opponents can do so: Professor Chapman (God love the cheeky scamp!) tweeted that they are merely “so-called” experts.  This is a bit rich coming from Simon who, after all writes in medical journals, on radio and telly sounds like he’s a medical doctor and but is not himself medically-qualified: in fact he is, like me, a mere Arts graduate.

Read the pro-harm reduction expert group’s submission here, it’s a cracker.

The likely failure of the TGA application makes the ground-breaking policy shift in New Zealand all the more important on both sides of the Tasman.  If the reasonable, pragmatic Kiwis hold the line and proceed with sensibly-regulated open access to nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, the pressure on Australian governments to either loosen harsh regulatory restrictions on vaping already in place (admittedly unlikely in the near term) or, where they are not yet in place, not resist the ban first and ask questions later at the urging of the tobacco control zealots who dominate the Australian vaping debate.

I’m not in Sinclair’s intellectual and scholarly class, bloody hopeless at graphs and spreadsheets, and I leave the arguments about medical and scientific issues to those experts qualified to make those cases.  But I know a hell of a lot about making politically-defensible public policy and devising lighter-touch regulation frameworks that work on the ground.  On that basis, I too submitted to the consultations on both the TGA’s nicotine scheduling application, and the NZ legislative and policy shift.  You can read my TGA submission here and my NZ submission here.

In the end, I’m convinced sensible policy will win over blind, reflexive ideology.  Sadly, however, another battle has just been lost, in Victoria where mad-eyed tobacco control zealots kept Labor and Liberal politicians on a tight string to legislate the near-suppression of vaping sales and public use.  Otherwise otherwise-intelligent Victorian MPs were rendered incapable of using their own minds and judgments for fear of McCarthy-like, puritanical denunciations from the likes of the Cancer Council, Quit and other tobacco control Torquemadas who set the terms of debate.

But this important policy small war ultimately will be won for vaping and vapers, saving lives, improving health and, above all, doing more for relieving the economic burden of smoking-related death and disease on we long-suffering taxpayers than anything the tobacco control power elite have so far come up with, including the unlamented Nicola Roxon’s plain packaging.

Onward and upward!

Terry Barnes is a former senior policy adviser to federal health ministers, and a part-time fellow of the UK Institute of Economic Affairs

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26 Responses to Guest Post: Terry Barnes Vaping: Reason and common sense will yet prevail

  1. H B Bear

    If you were looking for sound, evidence-based public policy Victoriastan is the last place you would start looking.

  2. Art Vandelay

    Slightly OT, in case you missed it, here’s a list of the gutless Senators that voted for an increase in tobacco taxes:

    Why would anyone vote Liberal?

  3. Great work Terry. Here’s a submission to the NZ policy consultation from me and David Sweanor.

  4. Bushdoc

    As a country GP for more years than I care to remember. I find the arguments against Vaping, not just unscientific but plainly irrational.
    Vaping is simply another method of giving Nicotine. How precisely it is supposed to be bad, when you can by nicotine as patches, gum and a spray is beyond me. The government even subsidises Nicotine substitution in the form of patches in some circumstances. Public hospitals offer smokers patches so as to avoid the symptoms of Nicotine withdrawal, while they are in hospital and not allowed to smoke.
    Final point, I find it passing strange, that the same people who decry Vaping, also encourage narcotic substitution programs for Heroin addicts in the form of the Methadone program. Go figure.

  5. incoherent rambler

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe smoking taxes pay the healthcare for smokers and for a large part non-smokers.

  6. Baldrick

    In the end, I’m convinced sensible policy will win over blind, reflexive ideology. 

    I hope you’re right Terry. The sooner we can purchase liquid nicotine products in Australia, the better.

  7. hzhousewife

    As a country GP for more years than I care to remember. I find the arguments against Vaping, not just unscientific but plainly irrational.

    If I were still a smoker (gave up 30 years ago after a student fling for a while at the rate of a packet a week), I would be busting to go nicotine only for health reasons. And we have a government that wants to STOP that! Roxon’s descendant should be all for vaping, as a better alternative to tobacco toxins. Although, I admit, it took a year for me to stop hanging out next to the smokers at parties for a bit of a whiff of the old baccy, and nicotine is very addictive.
    On the tax issue, if they didn’t waste it they wouldn’t need to gouge us for it (they being the bureaucracy).

  8. Well done Terry.

    I’m gobsmacked that we even need to debate or fight for the right to use such a benign device/substance, let alone in the context of the idea of the voluntary assumption of risk by sentient and fully informed adults.

    It is just mind-blowing our country has come to this level of over-regulation and bloodymindedness when it comes to interfering in other people’s lives.

  9. Tim Neilson

    So after his supposedly brilliant speech about tobacco excises, Senator James Paterson (Hypocritical Sellout Party, Vic.), voted in favour of the increases.
    Remind me again why the Delcon boycott of the TURNbull COAliTion Team is wrong because at least there’ll be some conservative and libertarian fighters trying to hold the line against the middle class pinko enemy within?
    OK one possible exception. Bernardi wasn’t there. I believe he’s in the USA. Actually he’s always been more of a conservative than a libertarian and strikes me as a likely health fanatic – certainly I’ve never seen him argue for smokers’ rights – so if he had been there and voted for the increases that at least wouldn’t have been utterly and unscrupulously treacherous.

  10. incoherent rambler
    #2148023, posted on September 15, 2016 at 3:43 pm
    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe smoking taxes pay the healthcare for smokers and for a large part non-smokers.

    Yes, smokers overpay their costs to the system many times over.

  11. Bruce of Newcastle

    As I mentioned on the other vaping thread one of the big issues that e-cigs represent is lost revenue for the government.

    One cigarette, according to the wiki, delivers about 1 mg of nicotine to the smoker. The tax on that single cigarette is 61c. So that 1 mg of nicotine gives the government 61c of tax revenue.

    A bottle of high purity nicotine from Sigma-Aldrich can be easily purchased for AU$377 plus postage and handling, assuming Customs doesn’t confiscate it. That bottle contains 100mL of pure nicotine, which therefore costs 0.37 cents per cigarette-equivalent.

    So if you were to turn that bottle of nicotine into e-liquid you would have enough for roughly 100,000 e-cigarette uses.

    And the tax on the $377 bottle of pure nicotine would theoretically be $61,000 if it replaced those 100,000 fags.

    Nice markup. That is how much money that governments are foregoing with e-cigs. Gasp.

    Just so that you know what you’re up against. 😀

  12. Even on a bale of tobacco Bruce, back in about 2002, it would leave the farm gate and be worth $850 and then when excise was applied, it would be worth $29,000.

    Shocking that we allow such brazen extortion and greed from our servants.

  13. duncanm


    if you consider commercial vs. government/social program, then it all strangely aligns.

    Drugs supplied by private enterprise – bad, free drugs from government – good.

    Who said religion is the opiate of the masses? The government would rather have you on the real stuff.

  14. duncanm

    .. and further..

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we get to the ridiculous situation where we have people supporting marijuana vaping and opposing nicotine vaping.

  15. memoryvault

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe smoking taxes pay the healthcare for smokers and for a large part non-smokers.

    Latest comparable figure available last time I looked were from 2012:
    Smoking-related health care costs – $318 million.
    Smoke taxes – $6.5 billion.

    Latest available figure on smoking taxes is current – $8.5 billion, but I don’t have a corresponding health care cost.

  16. MareeS

    Spot the paradox: remove evil nicotine from use by adults by taxing it to death; but cannabis oil is fine for young children, untaxed and under-researched.

    I’m not a smoker of either substance, but how can you demonise one and not the other, when they are often smoked together, especially with chopchop?

  17. MareeS

    One more thing…the daughter, who smokes tobacco but not pot, says chopchop now costs roughly the same, so all the people in her industry now smoke thin little rollies of the chop rather than ever buying tailor-mades, and it all comes through the same dealers. No tax.

  18. MsDolittle

    Labor and Liberal politicians on a tight string to legislate the near-suppression of vaping sales and public use.

    I buy a 2 year supply of 98% pure nicotine for about AU$29. I haven’t had a cigarette for 10 years. Gateway drug, my arse.

  19. James Gibson

    Why does the TGA have any ability to make vaporizing cigarettes illegal? Control over such things is not listed as a federal government responsibility on the Constitution.

    The states must take back powers over all drugs from the federal government, including over E-cigarettes. At a national scale, with 24 million people, all jockeying for their own self-interest, we are fighting a losing battle on any nanny-state policy.

    Too bad all you people can’t seem to see that.

  20. Rabz

    Vaping: Reason and common sense will yet prevail

    No. It. Will. Not.

  21. Tel

    Niw Zulanders do tund to be a bet smurter thun Estreeliuns. Eh bro?

  22. Louis Hissink

    Maree, the hypocritical taxation of nicotine and weed is based on the original proscription of “hemp” by the US on behalf of the DuPont Chemical company that was trying to market their new petroleum based nylon rope products. Those nylon ropes were not as good as the hemp ropes then in use, and since a variety of hemp was also “dope” or “weed”, to eliminate competition natural hemp was declared a drug.

    Pure mercantilism or crony capitalism.

  23. Stan

    Your optimism is pleasing but, I am afraid, somewhat unrealistic.

  24. Lollylulubes

    Terry …. Great blog, thank you! … but please don’t fall for the propaganda, “relieving the economic burden of smoking-related death and disease on we long-suffering taxpayers”. As others have said, smokers’ taxes more than pay for their health costs – the government makes a ludicrous amount from them paying through the nose.

    …..”and nicotine is very addictive.”

    Actually, outside of cigarette smoke, nicotine isn’t particularly addictive and probably not at all. It’s a myth that is particularly useful for selling pharma’s patches and gums. Along with other additions, MAOIs in cigarettes bind with the nicotine to cause the addiction.

    For years, Dr.Paul Newhouse of Vanderbilt University has been treating never smoker patients with high strength nicotine patches, for periods of six months, for cognitive problems, depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Schizophrenia and also Ulcerative Colitis. None of these patients became addicted to nicotine or started smoking. Pharmaceutical companies won approval for long term and concomitant use of their patches and gums (with other nicotine containing products, including cigarettes) with no concerns for safety or abuse (addiction). Dr. Newhouse’s trials, amongst others, were cited to win the approval.

    The majority of vapers, including myself, find that we have to start vaping with an amount of nicotine comparable to the cigarettes we smoked. However, both over time and as we buy better and more efficient vapourisers, we are forced to reduce the amount of nicotine – our bodies tell us just by the fact that suddenly the eliquid seems too strong. Having smoked a pack a day, I started out on 24mg/ml and over 18 months reduced to 6mg/ml ….. this is the opposite of so called “addiction”. This is where I have stayed for nearly 3 years and intend to stay because vaping prevents relapse, because of the benefits nicotine gives, including the fact that vaping is pleasurable – for me and many others, more so than smoking.

    Experts: See “On Nicotine’s Potential For Dependence”

    Is Nicotine Addictive?

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