Public health

Respiratory groups unite to oppose e-cigarettes for smoking cessation

Respiratory representative groups have joined other health organisations to oppose the use of e-cigarettes as an aid to smoking cessation.

Lung Foundation Australia and Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand joined with Cancer Council and public health groups to back a whole-of-government statement highlighting concerns about “the direct harms e‐cigarettes pose to human health”.

The groups commended Commonwealth, state and territory governments for maintaining a precautionary approach to e-cigarette use based on scientific evidence, and standing firm against commercial pressure to market vaping devices as smoking cessation aids.

In contrast to the UK government’s cautious approval of e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking, a recent COAG statement expressed “deep concern at emerging evidence of serious health risks associated with e-cigarettes and the international evidence of e-cigarette uptake by non-smokers and, in particular, by young people”.

Professor Bruce Thompson from the TSANZ said there was a lack of robust evidence to support use of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation.

“We know e-cigarettes cause damage in the cells of the lung, they are not proven as effective cessation aids and we do not believe industry, with their aim of selling products, has a role to play in effective public health,” he said.

Lung Foundation Australia Chairman and respiratory physician Professor Christine Jenkins said there was growing evidence showing e-cigarette use was a precursor to smoking in young people, and this should be enough reason alone to ensure these devices are not readily available in the market.

“Smoking rates in young Australians are among the lowest in the world. Evidence increasingly demonstrates youth transition from e-cigarettes and personal vaping devices to traditional cigarettes is highly likely, and the use of these products damages the lung with or without nicotine.

“Maintaining a strong stance on e-cigarettes is critical to prevent the next generation of lung cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease patients,” she said.

Terry Slevin, CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia said the tobacco industry and e-cigarette proponents relied heavily on unsubstantiated claims that use of e-cigarettes is 95% safer than traditional cigarettes.

“This claim has been discredited – and is based on an “guestimate” by 12 individuals, some with links to the tobacco industry, and is not based on scientific evidence.

“E-cigarettes are relatively new and there is no long-term data on their safety. They also contain a range of unknown ingredients which make it hard to make general statements around their safety.”

Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Sanchia Aranda said  there was a need to focus on what we know works in tobacco control.

“To continue to drive down smoking rates, we need more funding for mass media campaigns and to find more ways to support smokers to quit – including more tailored behavioural support from services like Quitline and appropriate nicotine replacement products,” she said.

“Australia has taken a precautionary approach to e-cigarettes, with good reason. A range of independent organisations, including the NHMRC, TGA and World Health Organization have concluded that there just isn’t enough evidence to make a call on e-cigarettes as safe, or an effective aid for people to quit smoking.”

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