Tasmania consults on better protections for cigarettes and new ways to promote cancer… Okay, that’s not quite how they put it.
But they have been consulting on further turns of the prohibitionist screw on e-cigarettes. I have collaborated with the excellent folk at the New Nicotine Alliance UK (NNA) to respond to the consultation – our attempt at solidarity across the hemispheres with benighted vapers and the potential vapers denied choices for no reason.
The response covers the questions asked by Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services, provides observations about the rightness of giving smokers better options, gives some advice and sources on controversial aspects of e-cigarettes. We set the tone as follows:
Australia and its states and territories have often set trends in tobacco policy and what happens in Australia often has global significance. In the case of e-cigarettes and the wider concept of tobacco harm reduction (the availability of low risk alternatives to smoking for those who cannot or do not wish to quit using nicotine), Australia is setting a terrible and misguided example. It has adopted illiberal prohibitionist policies that protect the cigarette trade, deny smokers better and safer products, and will ultimately cause more misery, disease and death. E-cigarettes present an opportunity far greater than any conceivable threat.
But I think the problem starts far upstream in Tasmania and Australia for that matter. How do they think about what they are doing – the ethics, the approach to risk, the case for state intervention etc. So rather than repeat the whole 12 page submission let just repeat the section that tries to grab the attention on how these prohibitionists see the world.
3. Do you have any other comments?
Poor ethical framework. The overall approach to e-cigarettes as set out in the discussion paper is misguided: it exaggerates minor risks or risks that are purely hypothetical, but takes no account of the benefit to smokers. It also lacks an ethical framework to address these issues. At no point does the analysis reflexively pose obvious questions to test the ethical underpinning of the policy:
How can we justify preventing Tasmanian smokers having access to e-cigarettes as a much safer alternative to smoking, while we allow cigarettes to be widely available?
How many extra people might we cause to continue smoke who might otherwise quit smoking through e-cigarettes, and what responsibility would we bear for any premature deaths that occurred as a result?
We may not know everything about e-cigarettes, but given what we do know, what judgements should we make and how do we validate these or adjust our policy as knowledge evolves?
Because we don’t have complete knowledge of e-cigarettes, are we right to ensure that consumer choice is limited to only the products we are certain are highly dangerous?
How likely is it that someone will take up vaping who would not otherwise have smoked, what harm would it cause and how would we weight this against the very significant health benefits to smokers who switch (or potential smokers who never start)?
Unintended consequences. Finally, the analysis systematically ignores highly plausible unintended consequences that could arise from regulatory choice made in Tasmania and Australia generally. For the most part, these would have the effect of making e-cigarettes less effective and appealing as alternatives to smoking – and in doing so risk increasing smoking and protecting the cigarette trade.
And another Tasmanian prohibitionist idea…
Tasmania has hitched itself to the prohibitionist idea of a Tobacco Free Generation – supported by its tobacco control group, Smoke Free Tasmania. This means anyone born in or after the year 2000 cannot be sold cigarettes, no matter how old they get. I guess in 2050 you could be carded on your 50th birthday under this scheme. As it is one of tobacco control’s ‘endgame’ ideas, I have criticised this proposal here as part of a wider critique of prohibitionism in tobacco policy.
And a better endgame…
I say with due modesty, my version of the endgame for smoking-related death and disease is better and far more plausible – through the interplay of consumers and markets the emergence of technology and innovation will render death-dealing smoking products obsolete without having to ban them or punish the users. That is unless authorities like Tasmania actively obstruct the obsolescence of cigarettes, restrict consumer choice to only the most dangerous products, and apply abusive force of law to suppress the market demand that is driven by smokers wanting to look out for their own health.