Legislators should be cautious in accepting the advice of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry when it comes to reducing Tasmania’s smoking rates.
While TCCI boss Michael Bailey is right in saying Tasmania’s approach to cutting smoking rates needs a fresh approach, his advocacy for vaping as a magic antidote to tobacco needs careful examination.
Replacing tobacco with vaping – particularly vaping products containing nicotine – does nothing to address the harms associated with nicotine addiction. This is an addiction that impacts a significant number of Tasmanians.
Setting aside the fact that we don’t fully know the long-term health ramifications of ingesting vaping fluids, it’s a reasonably safe assumption that ingesting large quantities of anything into our lungs other than air is likely to be detrimental, as Mr Bailey acknowledged. We already have evidence that vaping can and is causing serious health impacts, including respiratory disease and increased risks of heart attacks.
Beyond the emerging health impacts, Tasmania has the opportunity to ensure real and meaningful focus in assessing the social impacts and costs of addiction – an area where the Tasmanian population is significantly over represented.
Fundamentally, nicotine is highly addictive. That’s why smokers want to quit, but can’t. Their bodies simply crave nicotine, to the point they struggle to cope without it.
Shifting the consumption of nicotine from tobacco to vaping doesn’t do anything to lessen this burden of addiction. A person with a nicotine addiction can lose a significant degree of agency in their life because they are compelled and motivated to feed and prioritise the addiction – sometimes at the cost of other fundamental needs.
That loss of agency is something we as a society should be mindful of. While trading off the ongoing health legacy attached to tobacco for the ‘oh, it might not be as bad’ mythology of vaping might seem like some sort of instant policy fix for one of the greatest health disasters, it doesn’t solve the problem that people will still be addicted and will still be prioritising that addiction when it comes to living their life, not to mention other emerging health needs we currently don’t understand.
There are no prizes for guessing who’s waiting up the supply chain for that money to land in its bank account. Big Tobacco – the very same companies who have churned out cancer-causing products every single day, knowing full well that they will kill people when used exactly as intended – has been quick to hitch its profit-driven wagon to vaping as cigarette use declines.
Mr Bailey’s vapes for cigs health policy would no doubt be music to Big Tobacco’s ears. Promoting vaping on the basis that it might be better for addicts than smoking is exactly what its bottom line is counting on.
However, contrary to the TCCI’s assertion that vaping products containing nicotine are “far less harmful than smoking”, the World Health Organisation has concluded that tobacco products and e-cigarettes both pose risks to health and “the safest approach is to use neither”.
Surely the best approach from governments would be to support Tasmanians with nicotine addiction through smoking cessation programs, rather than adding to the complexity of improving health outcomes of Tasmanians. That would be a truly fresh approach. When it comes to setting health policies, I’d argue the WHO is wiser counsel than Big Tobacco – and replacing one Big Tobacco tool with another is not a policy setting Tasmania should be contemplating.
- Paul Lupo