Governments in Australia and around the world have implemented a variety of strategies over the years to minimise harm to people such as syringe and needle exchange programmes, providing access to medicinal cannabis, free condom programmes, and even mandatory bike helmets. Seat belts and airbags in cars and helmets for motorcyclists are other examples of harm reduction strategies that we take for granted.
Although Australia has some of the world’s toughest tobacco control measures, our smoking rate of 13.8% has remained relatively flat since 2014.1
Despite this stagnating smoking rate and the well-known risks associated with smoking, a harm reduction approach has not been applied to tobacco.
With approximately 3 million people continuing to smoke in Australia, a rethink on tobacco control policy and regulations is needed to reduce the harm caused by smoking. We believe Australia’s adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke deserve to have access to better smoke-free alternatives which are backed by solid science.
Under current law, only tobacco in its most harmful form – that contained in tobacco products that are burned, such as cigarettes – is legally available in Australia, while smoke-free alternatives such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products that are legally available in many other countries are prohibited.
Extensive scientific research has established that it is primarily the toxins and carcinogens in tobacco smoke – not the nicotine – that cause illness and death.2
This research is the reason why a growing number of experts and health authorities acknowledge that smoke-free products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products – which produce vapour rather than smoke – are better alternatives for adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke cigarettes.
Smoke-free products containing nicotine are currently available to smokers in the US, UK, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and more than 45 other countries around the world. In fact, Australia is the only OECD country, other than Turkey where smoke-free alternatives are not currently available to adult smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke.
Furthermore, where smoke-free alternatives have been introduced, some countries have seen dramatic reductions in their cigarette sales. For example, in Japan, cigarette sales declined at an accelerated pace following the introduction of heated tobacco products in 2016.3
It’s time for Australia to catch up to the rest of the world and change its laws to allow adult smokers access to scientifically substantiated smoke-free products which are a better alternative than continuing to smoke cigarettes.
1 National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18, Australian Bureau of Statistics
2 UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
3 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health