25 Jun Coalition MPs revolt against ban on people importing liquid nicotine for vaping
Paul Karp – The Guardian – Thursday 25 June 2020
Coalition MPs including George Christensen have revolted against Greg Hunt’s unilateral decision to ban the personal importation of liquid nicotine for vaping from 1 July.
The decision, made by the health minister on Friday after parliament rose for a six-week adjournment, delighted doctors groups but has outraged Liberal and National backbenchers who favour legalisation of vaping.
On Wednesday, Christensen said the ban could mean fines of up to $200,000 for those who break the law and import liquid nicotine without a prescription.
“This was all done without any consultation with the public or many government MPs including myself,” he said on Facebook.
“I completely oppose the move, which could result in people returning to cigarettes or purchasing potentially dangerous alternatives on the black market.”
The Liberal senator James Paterson told Guardian Australia his views “remain unchanged”.
“Vaping is a safer alternative to smoking,” he said. “We should be making it easier for smokers to quit, not harder.
“We should safely regulate vaping like virtually every other developed nation has done.”
In March 2018 the Liberal MPs Trent Zimmerman, Tim Wilson and Andrew Laming voiced support for vaping in dissenting reports of a House of Representatives health committee inquiry.
Zimmerman told Guardian Australia he had done so because he was “convinced vaping could play a major role in moving people from tobacco to a safer product”.
“It is inexplicable to me why the government would act during a pandemic – when all evidence is that smoking increases the health risk for those who catch coronavirus – in a way that could result in more people going back to smoking,” he said.
The Nationals senator Matt Canavan described as “overkill” the move to impose fines “for importing what is in most countries a legal product”.
In September 2018 Hunt initiated an independent review into the health impacts of nicotine e-cigarettes after a concerted push in the Coalition party room over several months to legalise vaping.
Under Hunt’s plan vaping imports will remain banned for 12 months, unless an individual has discussed their needs with their doctor and obtained a prescription. In that time, the Therapeutic Goods Administration will conduct consultation about how best to regulate vaporiser nicotine products, including nicotine-containing e-cigarettes.
On Tuesday Hunt defended his importation ban, telling 2GB radio that “vaping is not a safe product” because it acts as a gateway drug.
“We’ve seen a doubling of the number of poisonings in Australia, primarily caused by imported products of dubious quality and safety,” he said.
“In the US [there] is a 78% increase in the number of high school children who are vaping.
“The [US Food and Drug Administration] … has been deeply concerned about what they’ve described as an epidemic.
“Under the current administration of President Trump they have been very critical, they have seen what they believe is a measure which has not become a smoking cessation tool but it’s become a smoking commencement tool.”
In a statement on Wednesday the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners supported the import ban.
“There are concerns about safety and long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, including on smoking uptake, and the college strongly supports the precautionary approach taken by the Australian government,” it said.
Vaping should be a “last resort” for patients to seeking to quit smoking after other cessation products including medication and counselling, it said.
Doctor Parivash Eftekhari, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Newcastle, said “there is data on both positive and negative effects of e-cigarettes on human health”.
“Epidemiological studies show e-cigarettes have helped reduce the smoking rates and consider them effective in smoking cessation,” Eftekhari said.
“Rationally, receiving only nicotine through these devices may be less harmful than smoking tobacco.”
However, studies also showed e-cigarettes use is associated with increased oxidative stress which can lead to cancer, cardiopulmonary pathogenesis, and neurodegenerative disorders.
On Wednesday the Legalise Vaping Australia campaign began to target other Coalition MPs it claimed also supported vaping, urging them to speak up on the issue, including Steve Irons and Phil Thomson.