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