Legalizing Vaping in Australia
Bottom Line: Recognizing the relative safety of vaping and the declining smoking rates in other countries where vaping is legal, Australia should reform its tobacco control policy to end the de facto ban on vaping and regulate it as a consumer good rather than a tobacco product. Regulation should aim to maximize the benefit for adult smokers while reducing any potential risks to users and harm to the wider population, especially young people who have never smoked. Vaping represents a huge public health opportunity that should not be delayed.
Smoking rates in Australia have been declining steadily since the 1970s but have recently slowed in spite of Australia having the highest cigarette prices in the world, plain packaging and strict tobacco control laws. Only one in 25 unaided quit attempts (‘cold turkey’) is successful six to 12 months later. Even with best-practice treatment of professional counseling and stop-smoking medication, 75% are still smoking a year later. The average 40-year-old smoker has had 20 unsuccessful quit attempts. Of those who do finally quit, there is steady attrition over time due to high relapse rates. After being abstinent for 12 months, one in two quitters will subsequently relapse.
Legalizing vaping has enormous potential to improve public health, particularly for disadvantaged smokers who are disproportionately affected by smoking-related diseases. There is now convincing scientific evidence that vaping helps some people transition from smoking. A recent landmark randomized controlled trial of nearly 900 smokers in the UK found that those who were randomized to use a modern vaping device with nicotine were nearly twice as likely to have quit 12 months later as those using conventional nicotine replacement products like the patch and gum, alone or in combination.
Vaping is not risk-free, but long-term use is estimated by several reputable authorities to be no more than 5% as harmful as smoking. There is convincing scientific evidence that vaping helps some people quit smoking, including a recent, large randomized trial which found that vaping is nearly twice as effective as conventional nicotine replacement therapy. Vaping is now the most popular quitting method in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.
Vaping provides another quitting strategy at no cost to the public purse. Smokers who switch to vaping can expect substantial improvements in health as well as large financial savings, of special importance to low-income groups. Fears of vaping being a gateway to youth smoking, renormalization of smoking and uptake by non-smokers have not materialized to any significant extent in over 10 years of overseas experience so far.
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- Nicotine delivery products differ significantly in the amount of harm they pose; e-cigarettes are estimated to be at least 95 percent safer than traditional smoking.
- Legalizing vaping has enormous potential to improve public health, particularly for disadvantaged smokers who are disproportionately affected by smoking-related diseases.
- Recognizing the relative safety of vaping and the declining smoking rates in other countries where vaping is legal, Australia should reform its tobacco control policy to end the de facto ban on vaping and regulate it as a consumer good rather than a tobacco product.