Australian states and territories are ramping up e-cigarette restrictions, with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) introducing legislation to treat nicotine vaporisers like tobacco products, and a South Australian parliamentary committee recommending similar bans.
Meanwhile, the health community is awaiting the results of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHRMC)-funded research into e-cigarette safety and effectiveness; and British American Tobacco (BAT) is suing Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which has not yet approved any e-cigarettes as nicotine-quitting products.
On its website, the NHMRC states that there is insufficient evidence to conclude whether e-cigarettes can benefit smokers in quitting, or about the extent of their potential harms. It is funding research by Dr Coral Gartner at the University of Queensland to test the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation, by comparing them with traditional smoking cessation aids.
“It is recommended that health authorities act to minimise harm until evidence of safety, quality and efficacy can be produced,” the NHMRC website says.
Dr Gartner said her team was now analysing data and writing up an article to be submitted for publication later this year. A literature review published in this issue of Public Health Research & Practice finds that e-cigarette vapour has the potential to lead to adverse health effects, although the risk is less than that from tobacco smoke.
E-cigarette use is reported to be growing strongly in the UK and US. Population prevalence of e-cigarette use in Australia is unknown, but a 2014 NSW Health population health survey found prevalence in that state was 1.3%, while 8.4% of people were estimated to have used e-cigarettes.
The TGA advises on its website that “products claiming to help people quit smoking are therapeutic goods” and “the importation and supply (including sale) of therapeutic goods is illegal in Australia unless authorised by the TGA”. In addition, it said nicotine was classified by law as a dangerous poison and that some states also prohibited the sale of products that resemble cigarettes.
Some jurisdictions, such as Western Australia (WA), Victoria and the Northern Territory, have used poisons and retail legislation to restrict e-cigarettes, with WA last month winning a court case against an e-cigarette retailer. Tasmania recently conducted public consultation on the sale and use of e-cigarettes.
Last year, New South Wales passed amendments to tobacco legislation to make it an offence to sell e-cigarettes and their accessories to minors or for adults to buy e-cigarettes and accessories on behalf of minors, but stopped short of applying location restrictions on vaping.
Queensland has taken a strong stance, applying the same restrictions as for tobacco products, and the ACT has now followed suit. A South Australian (SA) parliamentary Select Committee on E-cigarettes has recommended a range of restrictions, including prohibiting use in locations covered by tobacco legislation.
ACT Assistant Health Minister, Meegan Fitzharris, said the territory’s Smoke-Free Legislation Amendment Bill, introduced last month following public consultation in 2014, placed the same restrictions on nicotine vaporisers as for tobacco, and the same penalties.
It prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to children, bans the use of e-cigarettes in identified smoke-free areas, and places restrictions on e-cigarette advertising, displays and marketing.
A spokesman for the SA Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Leesa Vlahos, said the Government was considering the Select Committee’s recommendations and hoped to respond in the coming months.
A spokesman for the BAT e-cigarettes company, Nicovations, said its product, Voke, was licensed as a medicine in the UK and the company was disappointed that the TGA had refused to evaluate its application in Australia.
“We’ve been forced to seek a review of the TGA’s decision not to assess our application and the case is currently before the Federal Court,” he said. “Nicovations would like to see the Australian Government take a pragmatic and proportionate approach to regulating next-generation nicotine products. It seems unreasonable that adult smokers in Australia currently can’t legally access these types of products.”
A TGA spokeswoman said the agency was unable to comment while the Nicovations case was still before the courts.