Smoke signals at ten paces in vaping inquiry

Public health

By Tessa Hoffman

7 Sep 2017

The parliamentary inquiry into the marketing and regulation of e-cigarettes will hold its second hearing today (September 8) in Canberra.

The line-up will include the ACCC, TGA, Department of Health, Cancer Council Australia, National Heart Foundation and the NHMRC.

Also set to appear are individual health experts, including Emeritus Professor of public health Professor Simon Chapman – who has won WHO’s World No Tobacco Day Medal – and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP).

It’s been two months since the inquiry’s first hearing in Sydney, where vaping proponents argued for “light touch” consumer-based regulation with a possible “therapeutic pathway” for companies that want to make smoking cessation claims for their products.

During that hearing, a toxicologist for British Tobacco, which the inquiry heard has invested $1 billion into vaping products – suggested regulation should fall under the remit of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

That idea has been rubbished by Professor Chapman, who argued that purported benefits of vaping were “small, uncertain and certainly unexceptional” while evidence of harm is emerging, and those “working to have the TGA circumvented as this umpire are challenging its authority on the flimsiest of pretexts”.

“As a core part of the case being put forward for the benefits of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) is based on a therapeutic claim (efficacy in smoking cessation), the TGA remains the appropriate regulator for nicotine-containing products. The TGA is also vastly experienced in assessing therapeutic product safety. For these two reasons ENDS must remain under TGA regulation.”

The ACCC wrote in its submission that its role in consumer protection in relation to vaping products was to identify and address risk of serious injury and death from products – such as explosions or ingestion of vaping fluids – but not overall safety.

Meanwhile, RANZCP wrote in its submission that vaping products need to be affordable and accessible to those with mental health disorders, who are overrepresented in smoking rates.

Regulation should strike the balance between encouraging smokers to switch to vaping while ensuring non-smokers don’t start.

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