‘As the only pharmacist in this place…’

Canberra Parliament House

Pharmacist politician Emma McBride has waded into the e-cigarettes debate, saying there is no evidence they are safe or less harmful than combustible cigarettes

On Monday, Labor MP Mike Freelander moved that the House of Representatives acknowledge the recent Standing Committee inquiry into e-cigarettes and the fact that it did not find e-cigarettes or personal vaporisers to be health products or a universally-accepted smoking cessation tool – and could be a “gateway” into tobacco and nicotine for non-smokers.

“There is a rotten smell in this building and it smells like big tobacco,” he said, saying that the tobacco industry has pressured the Senate into recommending “yet another” inquiry into e-cigarettes.

There has been significant debate about the regulatory status of nicotine liquids for vaping, with the TGA’s Adjunct Professor John Skerritt recently outlining three potential regulatory paths for the products – two of which would be through bricks-and-mortar or online Australian pharmacies.

Emma McBride rose in response to Mr Freelander’s motion to call vaping a “Trojan horse” for the marketing of tobacco products.

“As the only pharmacist in this place and someone trained in nicotine addiction and smoking cessation, I thought it was important to bring the debate about e-cigarettes back to where it should be and to examine some of the key facts,” the former hospital pharmacist said.

“First, no brand of e-cigarette has been approved by the TGA for assisting people to quit smoking.

“Systematic evidence and quality trials have found no conclusive evidence that e-cigarettes are an effective quit aid or that they are more effective than approved, established methods for quitting smoking.

“According to NHMRC reports, e-cigarette use in nonsmokers is associated with future uptake of tobacco cigarette smoking, countering claims that e-cigarette use is mainly by long-term smokers to help them quit.

“The market for e-cigarettes is clearly young people and the tobacco industry’s profit drivers to addict a new generation. Current use of e-cigarettes among Australian teenagers aged 14 to 17 is 17.5%, second only to 18- to 24-year-olds, with the highest usage rate, of 18.7%.

“As leading respiratory physician Professor Matthew Peters points out, documentary evidence suggests kids who use vaping are three to four times more likely to go from e-cigarettes to smoking.

“Vaping is what the Public Health Association of Australia has called a Trojan Horse to effectively market tobacco products. Australia has an outstanding record of protecting young people from the harms of tobacco and nicotine, which we must protect.”

She asked decision-makers to “call out false claims by lobbyists that reductions in smoking prevalence have stalled or slowed as a means of aggressively promoting e-cigarettes as a quit method”.

“Let’s debunk a myth: the claim that e-cigarettes are safe or less harmful than smoke cigarettes,” Ms McBride told Parliament.

“There is no scientific basis for this claim. The health impacts from exposure to foreign substances—for instance, asbestos—can take decades to appear, and there is growing evidence to suggest that long-term inhalation of e-cigarette liquids or vapours is likely to pose health risks.

“Worldwide, millions of young people, who on previous trends were otherwise at no risk of harm from smoking or e-cigarettes, are using e-cigarettes, and many are now smoking because of e-cigarettes.”

She noted that the ingredients in liquids for vaping are unknown.

“Labelling of e-cigarettes and e-liquids has been found to be incomplete or inaccurate,” she said.

“Products have been found to contain chemicals that were not listed on the label, or the label has stated incorrectly that they didn’t contain potentially toxic chemicals despite analysis confirming their presence.

“There might also be wide variations between the levels of nicotine stated on packaging and the amount contained in e-liquid. One study comparing identical models of e-cigarettes found nicotine content varied by up to 12% within batches and up to 20% between batches.

“What we do know is that e-cigarette liquids or vapours might also contain potentially harmful chemicals that are not present in smoke from tobacco cigarettes, that e-cigarettes might expose users to metals such as aluminium, arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, nickel and tin, that the rise in popularity of e-cigarette use has corresponded with an increasing number of reported nicotine poisonings due to exposure to ingestion of e-liquids, and that e-cigarette use exposes both users and bystanders to particulate matter that might worsen existing illness or increase the risk of developing cardiovascular or respiratory disease.”

She cited comments by expert Professor Matthew Peters, who has said that the long-term effects of vaping are still unknown – but that short-term effects include “onset of pneumonia and other lung diseases”.

“Australia has done fantastically well to reduce smoking rates,” Ms McBride said.

“Current rates for people in the 14-to-17 age bracket are between three and four per cent. These figures are the envy of the world, and there is a desperate need to avoid introducing a product that risks increasing rates.

“We must protect young people from this scourge of nicotine.”

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