Review of the evidence says e-cigarettes not the answer for Australian smokers


30 September 2020

The Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACOSH) has welcomed the findings of a comprehensive review by the Australian National University (ANU) of the published scientific and medical evidence on the use of e-cigarettes and their impact on the uptake of smoking and smoking cessation.

The review was based on a systematic analysis of evidence from Australia and internationally, and was conducted by leading epidemiologists from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at ANU.

The major conclusions from the review included:

  1. Among people in Australia aged 14 years and over in 2019, 11% had ever used e-cigarettes, most of whom (60%) reported using e-cigarettes once or twice only; 0.2% (equivalent to 412,000 people) reported current use (daily, weekly or monthly) and 1.1% (equivalent to 227,000 people) report daily use, according to the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey. Use has increased significantly of the last 6 years.
  2. A combined analysis of all data from studies examining the use of e-cigarettes by never smokers showed those who have used e-cigarettes were 3 times more likely as those who have not used e-cigarettes to try smoking traditional cigarettes and transition to regular smoking.
  3. The limited available evidence indicates that former smokers who had used e-cigarettes were around twice as likely to relapse and resume current smoking as those who had not used e-cigarettes.
  4. Overall, there is insufficient evidence that nicotine-delivering e-cigarettes are efficacious for smoking cessation, compared to no intervention, placebo existing nicotine-replacement therapy or other best-practice interventions. However, preliminary evidence highlights the potential for nicotine-delivering e-cigarettes to support cessation, and more reliable, large-scale evidence is needed.

“In recent years there has been relentless lobbying by the tobacco industry, tobacco industry funded front-groups, and retailing industry groups with commercial vested interests to make e-cigarettes more freely available and promoted”, said Maurice Swanson, Chief Executive of ACOSH.

“This review from leading epidemiologists at the ANU has confirmed that the evidence for e-cigarettes being an effective product for smoking cessation is very weak.

“There are now alarmingly high levels of e-cigarette use by school children in the US, Canada and NZ were e-cigarettes have been made freely available and promoted, and the ANU has confirmed that early use of e-cigarettes by young people makes it three times more likely they will take up smoking of traditional cigarettes.

“There is also accumulating evidence that e-cigarettes are harmful to the lungs, heart and blood vessels.

“Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s strong support for the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)’s proposal to make nicotine containing e-cigarettes only available through a Doctor’s prescription is strongly supported by the ANU’s review of the available scientific evidence”, Mr Swanson said.

“The promotion of e-cigarettes by the tobacco industry and tobacco industry funded allies is a weapon of mass distraction from tobacco control strategies that have made Australia a world leader in reducing the impact of smoking-caused disease and death.

“Australia needs to focus on what we know works to reduce smoking: well-funded public education programs, increases in tobacco tax, further prohibitions on the marketing of tobacco products, expansion of smoke free public places, plain packaging, systemic provision of support for smoking cessation through all levels of our health system, and special programs for disadvantage communities.”

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For media enquiries please contact Maurice Swanson 0401 090 915