Australia remains strangely out of step with other Western nations when it comes to allowing access to electronic-cigarettes, writes Isabelle Walker.

In September 2014, The Shell’s cover story was about the then little-known nicotine delivery device, the e-cigarette.

Three and a half years later, there seems to be an article about e-cigarettes at least once a day. Unlike in 2014, today an estimated 200,000 Australians break their tobacco habit by abating their nicotine addiction with ‘vaping’. However, just as in 2014, they are still – in the most part – breaking the law.

In those preceding three years, several international studies were undertaken into the effects of e-cigarettes. At the same time, inroads for e-cigarette regulation were made in other parts of the world, including in the United Kingdom, Europe, the US and New Zealand. Most countries had no prohibition against e-cigarettes and brought in regulation as more was learnt about the devices while keeping them available for consumers.

However, in Australia we seem to have continued to lag on e-cigarette regulation; our modus operandi in this country appears to be regulatory caution in almost all health-related progress.

As e-cigarettes become more popular, more people (smokers and non-smokers) are asking the question: why aren’t e-cigarettes (containing nicotine, as intended by design) available as an alternative to smoking?

Public health experts opposed to e-cigarettes would say not enough is known about the effects of the devices, and that more long-term studies are needed before we allow scheduling of nicotine liquid to align with selling the product.


However, there are numerous studies about the safety of e-cigarettes. The UK Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England reviewed all available research to conclude that e-cigarettes were 95 per cent safer than tobacco cigarettes. It begs the question, why is Australia’s regulation out of whack with our most comparable international counterparts?

The Federal Health Minister’s position is that: “the overwhelming medical advice and evidence is that it's likely to lead to the uptake of smoking and we cannot support that."[1]

The Minister’s main concern is, understandably, is for young people to never take up smoking, and this position on e-cigarettes would have been derived from advice from the AMA and other similar lobby groups.

Dr Colin Mendelsohn – a smoking cessation expert – refutes this claim. He says the study cited by most health experts who oppose e-cigarettes found e-cigarette use was often found in tandem with tobacco use among young people. Dr Mendelsohn does not believe that using one caused the use of the other. In a piece published on New Corp Australia’s website, Dr Mendelsohn said:

"A more likely explanation is that young people who are more attracted to experimentation are more likely to try both products, due to a shared underlying vulnerability. 


In fact, it is likely that vaping is diverting young people away from smoking tobacco. In the US, between 2013 and 2015, as e-cigarette use in young people has been rising, the rate of smoking has declined faster than at any time in the last 40 years (Monitoring the Future study). It is obviously better for young people not to use e-cigarettes, but vaping is preferable to smoking tobacco, and is at least 95 per cent safer. Many studies have found that regular use of e-cigarettes is almost entirely concentrated in young people who already smoke."[2]

Public Health England released a review this February stating: The evidence does not support the concern that e-cigarettes are a route into smoking among young people. Youth smoking rates in the UK continue to decline. Regular use is rare and is almost entirely confined to those who have smoked.[3]

Certainly, public health is divided on the issue of e-cigarettes in Australia. The Minister is in a fortuitous position where he can analyse all the evidence from around the world and come to a sensible decision to help people quit smoking.

What is going unnoticed is the dire effect on smokers who have tried many times to quit with existing cessation aids and cannot access e-cigarettes – when they can easily access more harmful traditional cigarettes on most street corners.

If adults can access one (more harmful) product, it seems utterly illogical that they cannot access the other, less harmful alternative.

One of the advantages of a global world is that we can share experiences easily. Australia should look to our neighbours, in New Zealand, the UK, the USA, Europe, and Canada, and listen to existing e-cigarette users who are crying out for easier access.