ACT News

E-cigarette reform ignites controversy with 242 submissions and accusations of bias

Critics say there is no evidence to support nicotine-containing vaporisers contribute to an increase in cigarette smoking.

The ACT Government has been swamped with submissions from health and industry groups regarding the potential changes to the use and sale of personal vaporisers or e-cigarettes. 

More than 240 submissions were lodged after the release of a discussion paper in November and the government's response – which was expected in early 2015 – will be delayed as ACT Health consider a surprising amount of community feedback.

Controversial: The electronic cigarette.
Controversial: The electronic cigarette.  Photo: Torin Halsey

The discussion paper has proved controversial with accusations of bias from the ACT's peak drug body, varying support from health lobbyists, and concern from manufacturers and local businesses.  

The Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Association ACT criticised the discussion paper for not paying enough attention to potential benefits of e-cigarettes and relying on assumptions.

In her submission to the government, ATODA chief executive Carrier Fowlie said there was no sound evidence to support nicotine-containing vaporisers contributing to an increase in cigarette smoking.

"Given the lack of evidence relating to re-normalising cigarette smoking, the assumptions underpinning this section are questionable," she said.

Despite the criticism, the association supported the government's intention to restrict the sale e-cigarettes to those aged 18 years and older, the banning of promotions and vending machine sales, along with in-store advertising.

"This reflects the fact that many personal vaporisers available for sale in the ACT mimic the appearance of tobacco cigarettes, people use them with hand to mouth movements similar to those of cigarette smoking, and most of them emit what looks to some people like tobacco smoke."

The Outback Vape Café in Gungahlin, which began selling e-cigarettes online in August 2013 before opening a shopfront café, claimed regulation could undermine the reduction in people smoking cigarettes in the ACT.

"I agree that the re-normalisation of smoking would indeed undermine the reduction in people smoking cigarettes in the ACT and this is something I agree should be avoided," said the store manager in his submission.

"It is concerning, however, that PVs [personal vaporisers] are being viewed by government agencies as having similarities to tobacco products and therefore inherently carry with them potential harms to the community that are comparable with tobacco cigarettes."

"My business is not a business which is funded by big tobacco and therefore I refute the claim that PVs are just a way for tobacco companies to pick up on lost profits from cigarette sales."

E-cigarette manufacture Nicoventures, which was established by British American Tobacco in 2010, welcomed the move to "introduce a legislative framework which will allow access to regulated e-cigarette products".

"The fact that there have been a vast number of submissions shows the need for the government to act and make e-cigarettes legally available to smokers wishing to quit or reduce their tobacco intake, said director of regulatory affairs Stephen Jenkins.

"To help smokers wishing to quit or reduce their tobacco intake e-cigarettes should be as freely available as nicotine replacement therapies such as patches and gums and as well as tobacco products.

"And as e-cigarettes don't contain any tobacco, and do not create smoke they shouldn't be treated in the same way as tobacco, for example subject to smoke-free areas."

But Heart Foundation chief executive Tony Stubbs was concerned about the lack of accessible information regarding the contents of e-cigarettes. 

"The crucial thing is we just don't know what's in them and we don't know how safe they are," he said.

"Even more alarming is that some products which claim to not contain nicotine actually do have nicotine in them."

The government's discussion paper outlined concerns some e-cigarettes are incorrectly labelled as nicotine-free, with one recent study finding the poison present in 70 per cent of the products on sale in NSW.

Mr Stubbs said there was no doubt e-cigarette companies were targeting young people with their products.

"Electronic cigarettes are being aggressively marketed to young people at a time when cigarette use and acceptability among children and young adults is at an all-time low," he said.

"We have made great achievements in changing cigarette culture among young people and we certainly don't want to risk undoing all our inroads with products that mimic smoking."