Australia’s anti-vaping activists and bureaucrats working together to harass citizens and protect the cigarette trade

I remember back when I was Director of Action on Smoking and Health in the UK (1997-2003), we used to glance across hemispheres and admire what they were doing on tobacco in Australia. Australia’s anti-smoking coalition was engaged in a feisty battle for genuine public health, defending the little guy from predatory tobacco companies. At that time, it was the David of the story taking on the giant.

No longer.

What a pitiful spectacle they make now.  Now they are the predatory giants, harassing and bullying the little guy.

Thousands of ordinary Australians want a better and longer life by switching from smoking to vaping but an unaccountable cadre of public health activists, apparently with unshakable convictions untempered by evidence, humility or empathy, believes the government should use its powers to obstruct them.  On what basis? And how have they managed to get the Minister for Health to go along with their weird and dogmatic opposition to pro-health innovation and progress that is working well elsewhere?

In June, Australia’s Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP announced new measures to make access to vaping products even more difficult in Australia: Prescription Nicotine Based Vaping. This is an astonishingly poor act of policymaking and this blog takes a hard look at his proposals.

I am pleased there is to be a Senate inquiry into Tobacco Harm Reduction – this blog is my initial take on how Australian policymakers, consumers and businesses should navigate these issues – it’s quite long so please dip in.

Continue reading “Australia’s anti-vaping activists and bureaucrats working together to harass citizens and protect the cigarette trade”

Ten perverse intellectual contortions: a guide to the sophistry of anti-vaping activists

This puts it nicely:

Life is short and shorter for smokers. Just legalise vaping.

That statement is a plain-speaking and hyper-concise dissenting report from Andrew Laming MP, one of two dissenting reports from Australia’s recently-completed parliamentary inquiry into vaping  (The other dissenting report provides a model of clear, concise reasoning too, and, unusually, the dissent came from the committee chairman, signalling a welcome fracture in Australia’s political support for prohibition)

Though short, it is basically right and sufficient: no-one is trying to live forever; everyone is trying to enjoy the life they have; some people like the drug nicotine or don’t want to quit enough to stop using it; smokers die earlier because of smoke; vaping avoids the smoke problem and does not appear to create new material problems; so it follows that vaping should not be illegal. In fact, it should be encouraged.  It really is that simple.

The dissenting reports prompt me to raise the issue of simplicity versus sophistry in the debate over tobacco harm reduction. This has bugged me for years. Vaping and tobacco harm reduction is basically simple. The arguments raised against it by anti-vaping opponents are laden with sophistry.

This blog looks at ten forms of sophistry used by anti-vaping activists to fabricate and fuel faux controversy. It is longer than I would like,  but the subject is far from exhausted. Please dip in.

Continue reading “Ten perverse intellectual contortions: a guide to the sophistry of anti-vaping activists”

Is Australia falling behind on tobacco policy?

Sources: Office for National Statistics (UK). Smoking habits in the UK and its constituent countries, 2016.  Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 2016.

Updates: New Zealand moves / Media interviews

Update: two new submissions (available at Committee submissions page #336)


I’m visiting Australia next week and looking forward to some good discussions with people holding any and all points of view on vaping, nicotine and smoking.  My aim is to share experience from the US and UK where we are seeing encouraging uptake of low-risk vaping alongside an unusually rapid decline in smoking. Historically, UK has always had substantially higher levels of smoking than Australia, but in 2016 that gap has finally closed. Both countries have comprehensive tobacco policies – albeit with some differences in the details and Australia generally the first to do new measures, like plain packaging. But there is one major difference. UK (and especially England) now encourages smokers to switch to low-risk alternatives like vaping, while Australia actively prevents it and actually criminalises people who try to protect their own health in this way.

Five talking points inspired by the Royal College of Physicians

The case I want to make is that Australia is missing an opportunity, and there is a human cost for that in terms of cancer, heart and lung disease and premature death. I’ve structured my talking points around five of the key findings of the excellent April 2016 Royal College of Physicians (London) report: see Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction and press release.  It was, of course, the RCP that first put the dangers of smoking on the public agenda with its groundbreaking 1962 report, Smoking and Health. Continue reading “Is Australia falling behind on tobacco policy?”

Challenging the prohibitionists – submissions to Australian parliamentary inquiry into e-cigarettes

Since 2013, UK smoking prevalence fell at three times the rate of Australia despite Australia’s plain packs and sharp tax increases. Why might that be?

Really, it should be a no-brainer!  But here is an effort to encourage Australia’s legislators to look beyond the unaccountable clique that dominate Australia’s tobacco control field, and instead to look kindly on lifting the absurd Australian de facto prohibition of e-cigarettes and other low risk nicotine products.

Let’s boil it down to its essentials: supporters of e-cigarette prohibition somehow think it makes sense to deny at-risk citizens, smokers, access to much safer products that are alternatives to the market leader and to only allow the most dangerous products, namely “tobacco prepared and packed for smoking“, onto the consumer nicotine market. Well, I guess it would make sense if you were trying to protect the cigarette trade and harm as many smokers as possible. In my view, Australia’s policy has no basis in science, ethics or compassion. The approach bears the twin hallmarks of fanaticism and incompetence, and it needs to change.

So, here at some length is my submission to the Parliament of Australia, House Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport, Inquiry into The Use and Marketing of Electronic Cigarettes and Personal Vaporisers in Australia [link to inquiry]

Submission #271 by Clive Bates (PDF – 30 pages)

Executive summary (1 page) reproduced below…

Continue reading “Challenging the prohibitionists – submissions to Australian parliamentary inquiry into e-cigarettes”