Greg Hunt digs in on opposition to e-cigarettes after vaping ‘epidemic’

3 September 2019
Sarah Martin

Vaping industry preparing to ramp up lobbying efforts to push Canberra for policy change

The health minister, Greg Hunt, has hardened his opposition to changing Australia’s e-cigarette laws amid warnings of a vaping epidemic that has led to at least one death in the United States.

But despite the government’s stance, the vaping industry, which includes big tobacco companies such as Philip Morris, is preparing to ramp up lobbying efforts to push Canberra for policy change.

Following pressure from Coalition MPs late last year, Hunt ordered an independent inquiry into the use of nicotine e-cigarettes, the first report from which will be delivered to government by the end of the month.

The public health assessment is being conducted by the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University, with the study to look at electronic cigarette use in the Australian context.

The first stages of the research is investigating the “hardened smoker” hypothesis, which proposes that as smoking prevalence declines the remaining smokers will increasingly be “hard-core” or “hardened”, with higher nicotine dependence and less willingness to quit.

The hypothesis also proposes this group of smokers will be unresponsive to the traditional suite of tobacco control policies and motivational appeals.

A spokesman for Hunt said the minister was unmoved by those lobbying for Australia to change its approach to the regulation of vaping.

“The government’s position on e-cigarettes remains unchanged and the minister is firmly opposed to changing the current laws, particularly in light of recent statements by the US FDA about an epidemic of addiction among teen users.”

In Australia, the commercial sale of liquid nicotine used in vaping is banned, and can only be legally obtained with a doctor’s prescription.

statement released by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centre for Disease Control on Friday said that the agencies were investigating the link between e-cigarette use and severe respiratory disease, including a death in the state of Illinois.

As of 27 August 2019, 215 possible cases have been reported from 25 states, and additional reports of pulmonary illness are under investigation.

Despite unanimous opposition to vaping among the peak health groups, several Coalition MPs believe the government should support a regulated system, arguing it has benefits for hardcore smokers.

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman said the FDA’s statement had not changed his views, saying he was still a supporter of a regulated system similar to that in the UK.

According to the federal government’s lobbyist register, several pro-vaping groups have engaged lobbying firms to help make their case to MPs, including tobacco giant Philip Morris.

Philip Morris engaged Capetal Advisory, which has links to the Labor party, in April.

Bradley Green, director of Capetal Advisory, told Guardian Australia that the agency had been engaged by Philip Morris “to assist on issues to do with alternatives to smoking”.

“There are still millions of Australians who smoke and how that is best addressed in the long-term is an interesting policy question that should be dealt with properly.”

Former journalist Michael Gleeson, who runs Beltway Government Relations, is lobbying for the Australian Vaping Advocacy Trade and Research Organisation, which has been established by a small Australian vaping company.

Prominent lobbying firm Barton Deakin was engaged in 2017 to promote a visit by Clive Bates, one of the most vocal campaigners for what some in the vaping industry call Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR).

The Guardian