Terry Barnes: Reduce smoking rates to 10 per cent by 2025? Legalise nicotine vaping.

Last week, federal Health minister Greg Hunt was at the National Press Club selling his vision of the Coalition’s health policy for the next three years.

Good on him. There was much good stuff in what he said.

Amongst his statements of priorities, however, was this:

Today, I want to announce that the Government will set a new target of reducing smoking rates below 10 per cent by 2025. This may be one of the most important things I ever have the privilege of being involved with. We’ve already committed $20 million to the education campaign but there is more to be done and we’ll develop that with the health preventable and mental health.

How that target is to be achieved, when the adult smoking rate has flat lined around the 14 per cent mark for more than five years, is the $64,000 question.  More graphic product warnings? Still higher extortionate excise on tobacco products?  More of the social marketing that allows governments to believe, like Tinker Bell, that they’re doing something but achieves nothing except enriching advertising agencies and media companies?

Perhaps the Minister should look at our Anglosphere counterparts, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.  The UK last month released a Green Paper on preventive health that aims to make Britain smokefree by 2030.  New Zealand has had, since 2011 and therefore under National and Labour governments, a Smokefree 2025 policy that has been aspirational while smoking rates, especially amongst Maori and Pacific Islanders have remained stubbornly high.

But both Britain and New Zealand’s anti-smoking strategies now have one thing in common. Both embrace nicotine vaping as a new but effective weapon in the armoury to mitigate if not eliminate the mortality and morbidity destruction of combustible tobacco in cigarettes.

From the UK Green Paper:

The government is committed to monitoring the safety, uptake, impact and effectiveness of e-cigarettes and to assess further innovative ways to deliver nicotine with less harm than smoking tobacco. There is a large amount of research now available to support e-cigarette use as a safer alternative to smoking and help people quit smoking, and we continue to monitor the evidence.

From the NZ Government’s position statement on vaping:

The Ministry of Health considers vaping products have the potential to make a contribution to the Smokefree 2025 goal and could disrupt the significant inequities that are present.

In the UK and NZ, politicians and even the wokest of health bureaucrats has accepted that their smoking-reduction targets will not be met without the contribution of nicotine vaping. In the UK, the acceptance and market penetration of vaping largely accounts for a significant drop in the smoking rate from around 20 to 14.7 per cent between 2011 and 2018 – and it’s likely that British vaping regulation will be further liberalised post-Brexit.  In New Zealand, legislating to make nicotine vaping lawful is currently being completed, but already the government there has established websites and published other officially-backed public information about the stop-smoking potential of vaping.

Yet Australia refuses to join the party.  Hunt himself repeatedly has declared that legalised nicotine vaping “will never happen on my watch”, and a promise to his party room to fund an independent review into the risks and benefits of vaping, made before the last election when the Coalition expected to lose and Hunt presumably thought he’d never have to deliver on it, has not so far commenced, nor looks like it will for at least two years.

Hunt’s immediate policy problem, however, is that the Australian adult smoking rate has reached bedrock. It includes smokers whose determination to get their nicotine fix is so entrenched that they’ll pay even the eye-watering tobacco taxes that are there to boost consolidated revenue, and whose coffin nail addiction therefore is crucial to the government’s delivering its commitment to return the Budget to surplus in 2020.

The so-called “Australian model” of tobacco control – ostracising smokers by severely restricting where one can smoke, punitive tobacco excise, plain packaging and social marketing – has reached its limits of effectiveness, and to reduce smoking rates further needs both fresh thinking and embracing major disruptions like legal nicotine vaping.

Australian public health pooh-bahs, and the politicians on both sides who listen to them and fear them, are so wedded to what they’ve done for decades that they lack such fresh thinking and refuse to accept this reality.  As a result, Greg Hunt’s 10 per cent by 2025 target is destined to remain a throwaway line in a speech, unless he is willing to drop his wholesale opposition to legalised nicotine vaping.

Harvard-educated Hunt is no fool, and like any politician he likes to be on the ultimately winning side.  Provided he consults more widely, keeps an open mind to emerging evidence, ignores influential public health types blinded by their own self-perceived brilliance, and can at least consider vaping’s disruptive potential to slashing  smoking rates – as have Britain and New Zealand – there is yet a chance his aspirational 10 per cent goal is vaguely achievable.

It’s entirely up to him.

Terry Barnes is a policy consultant who formerly advised Howard government health ministers. He is also a Fellow of the UK Institute of Economic Affairs, and has never smoked or vaped.

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15 Responses to Terry Barnes: Reduce smoking rates to 10 per cent by 2025? Legalise nicotine vaping.

  1. Like with the class action law suits against the tobacco companies, I wonder if a similar class action could be eventually taken against government for what is ostensibly a very comparable act of negligence? In fact it could be taken as far worse, given all the evidence that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes and clearly appear to reduce the harmful effects of smoking, if not eliminate smoking altogether.

  2. a happy little debunker

    When you are addicted to Tobacco taxes, quitting is really, really hard!

    Hunt should try Quitline, perhaps get some patches/gum or see his local doctor for a script.

  3. Some History

    STOP the persecution of smokers.

  4. Tim Neilson

    Harvard-educated Hunt is no fool, and like any politician he likes to be on the ultimately winning side.

    True, but on past form Greggo won’t be the first one over the sandbags. He’ll wait for others to take the flak, then when he senses that the momentum is shifting he’ll time his conversion impeccably.

  5. mem

    He’ll wait for others to take the flak, then when he senses that the momentum is shifting he’ll time his conversion impeccably.

    If he absorbed anything at Harvard he would know that the whole climate change meme is nonsense. Yet he has gone along with it wasting billions of Oz dollars in the process. As far as I’m concerned he is a week-kneed belly slapper. No spine.

  6. Dr Fred Lenin

    Some e butted a cigarette on the sharps box beneath the no smoking sign inthe gents washroom .

  7. C.L.

    Reduce smoking rates to 10 per cent


  8. nfw

    Not that I smoke, but if politicians think it’s that bad then ban it outright. I fall about laughing at the thought.

  9. Just find out how much and to whom the makers of Nicorette are donating and wining and dining and you’ll have most of your answers.
    Do people realise govt pays yuge subsidies for nicotine replacement products like patches, gum etc?

    p.s. If you’re importing immigrants from 100% smoking areas (Middle East) then you’ll have trouble reducing the % of smokers. They don’t give a shit about the excise either. $10 per pack in the black market.
    Some enterprising PhD student should do a butt count in Lakemba and Broadmeadows.

  10. Dr Fred Lenin

    The shorfall in revenue caused by diminishing revenue caused by decreasing income from smokers will be compensated by a carbon tax ,and a chimney tax for wood fire burners ,you cannot dprive government ministers of their money ,after all they do print it . Yes

  11. Dr Fred Lenin

    Wonder how many assaults on warders. Police ,medical staff the fanatics ban on smoking in jails and psychiatric facilities have caused . Is there a levy on the anti smoking mafia to compensate the injured ?
    Many staff in psychiatric institutions turn a blind eye to smoking much safer than getting bashed fore enforcing some office borne wankers orders .

  12. Mother Lode

    Finally, it is not really a matter of protecting us from ourselves. Why should they care what we are doing behind closed doors in our little houses so geographically and intellectual remote from the rarefied realm where they exist as pure spirit?

    I honestly believe they are uneasy at the thought of the little chaos when we separate ourselves from the machine-like order they consider it is their job to operate for the benefit of others than us.

    Like a wobbly spool, or a cog that occasionally slips, or a rattling bracket, it portends all too imminent disintegration of order and function that gives their life meaning.

  13. Jonathan Bagley

    I (I’m, British) switched from being a heavy smoker to a vaper seven years ago. The UK now has the second lowest smoking rate in Europe, behind Sweden, which is unique due to the long term popularity of snus oral tobacco. Sweden has by far the lowest lung cancer incidence in the developed world. The decrease has been remarkable. At best, our 2007 smoking ban reduced prevalence, in one year, from 20% to 19%, where it remained until vaping went mainstream in 2013. It is now around 15% and falling. The smoking ban didn’t achieve very much except shut pubs, cause loneliness, cause distress among patients in mental hospitals and cause a massive drug problem in prisons (when smoking was banned a couple of years ago). Contrary to popular opinion, smokers use more health resources over a lifetime than do the “healthy”, so maybe your politicians addiction to tobacco excise tax is rational, but I think its only a matter of time before Australian politicians change their attitude towards vaping. Keep chipping away. It’ll also help your tourist industry. Believe me, neither smokers or vapers enjoy a holiday which incudes nicotine deprivation.

  14. Pingback: Vaping Digest August 19th – vapers.org.uk

  15. Jonathan Bagley

    Correction to my previous email. Should read “smokers use less health resources over a lifetime than do the healthy”. This is because they tend to die earlier and more cheaply.

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