As smoking rates reduce and the market for traditional cigarettes shrinks, Big Tobacco looks to new products, such as vapes and heated tobacco products, to keep their industry churning profits.
But why should we allow the commercial sale of a new range of harmful products?
It’s our job to ensure these products are kept out of Australia. The public health disaster caused by cigarettes is a history not to be repeated.
Novel nicotine delivery devices should only be made available if they are approved as safe and effective for smoking cessation and should also be subject to ongoing reviews of the evidence.
Read on to learn about these products. Or you can find comprehensive information on Tobacco products in Australia at the Tobacco in Australia Facts & Issues website.
Tackling the New Generations of Products
Tackling the vaping epidemic and resisting new tobacco products into the Australian market is an important piece of our advocacy work. See some of our advocacy work and resources below.
ACOSH Submission 2023 Consultation Tobacco & Other Products Bill
ACOSH's TGA Submission
E-cigarettes in Australia
E-cigarette / Vape FAQs
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What is an E-cigarette?
Also called vapes, e-cigarettes are a battery-operated, handheld device that heats a liquid solution (e-liquid) to produce an aerosol. The user inhales the aerosol in a manner that simulates smoking, commonly known as vaping.
Who is Vaping?
While the tobacco industry market e-cigarettes as a cessation tool, the data shows that e-cigarette use in Australia is highest in teenagers and young adults.
Recent media coverage in WA has described the growing use of e-cigarettes by teenagers and responses by schools to control their use and distribution.
Are Vapes Safe?
There is no completely safe substance for the human lung to inhale besides clean air.
A building body of evidence is showing there are a raft of potential health harms caused by vaping.
There are no quality or safety standards for vapes nor nicotine-free liquids and the liquids may contain a range of toxic chemicals and vary in levels of nicotine (even if labelled ‘nicotine free’).
The tobacco industry and its front groups are marketing e-cigarettes as a potentially ‘reduced risk’ alternative to traditional cigarettes. However, being potentially less harmful does not make them safe, and as these devices are still so new, the long-term health effects and safety are not yet known.
The Federal Department of Health has commissioned a comprehensive review of the evidence in relation to e-cigarettes conducted by the Australian National University. Its interim findings published in 2020 concluded that e-cigarettes pose more harm than benefit to the Australian population.
What Are the Health Impacts of Vaping?
For any non-smokers, e-cigarettes offer no benefits and present potential for harm from nicotine dependence, exposure to known toxins, and adverse effects for the cardiovascular system and lungs.
Nicotine is an addictive drug that has neurotoxic effects on the developing brain. Exposure to nicotine during adolescence, a vital period in neural development, has been associated with cognitive and behavioural impairment and lasting structural changes in the brain.
How is the Tobacco Industry Involved?
Since 2012, the leading tobacco companies have acquired and developed e-cigarette products, and now own many of the major e-cigarette brands.
The tobacco and vaping industry and their front groups market e-cigarettes as a potentially ‘reduced risk’ alternative to traditional cigarettes. However, being potentially less harmful than traditional cigarettes does not mean e-cigarettes are safe. The long-term health effects and safety of e-cigarette use are not yet established.
The industry has also been found to fund pro-vape research.
Do E-cigarettes Help People Quit Smoking?
The evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit permanently is weak and limited. Most smokers who use e-cigarettes are dual users and continue to smoke traditional cigarettes and studies have found using e-cigarettes for cessation is more likely to extend nicotine dependence.
Evidence also shows that for non-smokers, including young people, e-cigarettes can be a gateway into smoking traditional cigarettes. Research published in 2020 found non-smokers who started using e-cigarettes were 3 times more likely to take up smoking and former smokers who used e-cigarettes were twice as likely to relapse back to smoking than non-e-cigarette users. The research concluded that e-cigarettes were either ineffective as a cessation aid or no more effective than safer alternatives.
All of the following independent organisations have comprehensively reviewed the evidence regarding the safety of e-cigarettes and all have concluded there is insufficient evidence to recommend e-cigarettes as a safe and efficacious method to quit smoking.
- World Health Organisation (2021)
- US Preventive Services Task Force (2021)
- US Surgeon General (2020)
- Australian National University (2020)
- Irish Health Research Board (2020)
- European Commission (2020)
- Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (2020)
- European Respiratory Society (2019)
- American Academy of Paediatrics (2019)
- American College of Preventive Medicine (2019)
- Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) (2018)
- US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) (2018)
- World Health Organisation (2015)
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What is the Policy Landscape for E-cigarettes in Australia?
All Australian governments are taking a precautionary approach to e-cigarettes. The Department of Health has published a document on the principles that underpin the current policy and regulatory approach to e-cigarettes in Australia and the evidence informing this approach.
Australia has a strict regulatory environment for tobacco products. It’s illegal to manufacture, supply or sell nicotine e-cigarettes, as required by all states and territories (unless through doctor’s prescription).
The regulation of non-nicotine e-cigarettes varies depending on state and territory legislation, with almost all jurisdictions having regulated the sale and promotion of non-nicotine e-cigarettes in a similar way to traditional tobacco products.
WA differs in that the Tobacco Products Control Act 2006 (WA) states a person “must not sell any food, toy or other product that is designed to resemble a tobacco product or packaging.” In 2014, the WA Supreme Court convicted a retailer of breaching the Act for selling e-cigarettes that resembled a tobacco product. As a result of this case precedent, e-cigarettes cannot be sold in WA whether they contain nicotine or not.
How Are People Buying Nicotine Vapes if they're Illegal Without a Prescription?
In WA, despite strict regulations, evidence indicates retailers are circumventing regulations by selling e-cigarettes, and nicotine products are being bought through the internet from companies operating overseas. Approximately 70% of Australian e-cigarette purchases are made online, of which more than 40% use nicotine-containing products.
The recent seizure of 26,000 prohibited nicotine e-cigarettes and e-liquids in NSW shows the true extent of proliferation and exposure of e-cigarettes to young people via retailers. Urgent governments action is needed to curb this illegal activity.
Why is Australia's Precautionary Approach to E-cigarettes Important?
Australia is a world leader in reducing the prevalence of smoking among young people.
The most recent Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey showed that smoking by teenagers in WA was at its lowest level in 2017: only 4.8% of 12 to 17-year-olds had smoked in the week prior to the survey, down from 20.5% in 1984. There’s concern that the rising rates of young people vaping threatens to derail this promising trend.
E-cigarettes risk undermining gains in tobacco control by renormalising smoking and leading to a new generation of nicotine addiction among young people. Research is also showing e-cigarettes are a gateway to young people smoking regular cigarettes.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data from 2019 show the main users of e-cigarettes by age in Australia are 18-24-year-olds, followed by 12-17-year-olds. Between 2016 and 2019, the proportion of young adults using e-cigarettes almost doubled from 2.8% to 5.3%. These statistics are highly concerning and paint a picture of an unfolding public health crisis.
In contrast to New Zealand, the UK, the US and Canada, Australia has adopted a precautionary approach to the availability of e-cigarettes. There is evidence from the United States, Canada and New Zealand that the marketing and availability of e-cigarettes has resulted in alarmingly high levels of use among school children and young people.
Australia’s precautionary approach has kept our vaping rates, particularly among young people, lower than other parts of the world. This is why the approach and the enforcement of it continue to be important. We’ve managed to reduce the prevalence of school children smoking to 5% through tireless tobacco control efforts over decades, and leading health and medical organisations do not want to put this major public health achievement at risk with e-cigarettes.
Who is Lobbying to Make E-cigarettes Free in Australia?
The main organisations lobbying to make e-cigarettes freely available in Australia are tobacco companies, their front groups, and retailers. Many of these organisations have clear conflicts of interest.
Big Tobacco is keen to undermine progress to reduce smoking in Australia, through a range of traditional marketing, lobbying and public relations activities, and new approaches such as the development and promotion of new products.
Internal Philip Morris documents from 2014 revealed a 10-year Corporate Affairs Strategy that described how they would use the trojan horse of tobacco harm reduction to influence public policy in tobacco regulation.
Over the past two decades, novel products claiming to reduce exposure and risk have been introduced continuously, including e-cigarettes.
But while tobacco companies attempt to restore their reputation through public relations and positioning themselves as “part of the solution”, traditional tobacco products remain the key driver for the business. As British America Tobacco’s 2018 Annual Report states:
“As we develop new and potentially reduced-risk product categories, our conventional cigarette business remains strong and continues to grow. This enables us to invest in the development of better and more innovative products, while continuing to deliver strong results and dividends to our shareholders.”
The tobacco industry’s opposition to all tobacco control measures, and persistent marketing of traditional tobacco products, remains inconsistent with tobacco harm reduction.
What Can WA & Federal Government Do to Strengthen Australia's Precautionary Approach?
ACOSH commends the evidence-based position on protecting the population from the harms of e-cigarettes taken by all governments and health authorities in Australia.
The nicotine prescribing rules that took effect from 1 October 2021 will only work if supported by additional effective controls that protect young people from easily accessing e-cigarettes.
Some effective controls ACOSH and its partner organisations have been advocating for to federal, state and territory governments and health authorities include:
- All nine Australian governments to set a date for the total phase out of retail sales of all e-cigarette products, nicotine and non-nicotine, except nicotine-based products sold on medical prescription by registered pharmacists under TGA controls.
- State and territory governments to introduce uniform laws for phasing out non-nicotine e-cigarettes, for which there are no current or impending controls, noting that non-nicotine products are harmful, promoted to young people and irrelevant to the discussion on cessation.
- Governments to introduce tough penalties for non-pharmacy retailers selling e-cigarettes/liquids after the phase-out date and inform retailers that strong enforcement measures will be in place.
- Governments to strengthen routine monitoring and coordinate enforcement measures, including state/territory controls on unlawful e-cigarette sales and Commonwealth border controls on the unlawful importation of nicotine in vaporising liquid or e-cigarette products.
- Strict controls on all forms of marketing for e-cigarettes.
ACOSH will continue to advocate for the WA and Commonwealth government to translate this position into regulation, policy and practice, and will continue to expose the lobbying and marketing activities of the tobacco industry.
Why Does ACOSH Support Australia's Precautionary Approach to E-cigarettes?
To summarise why ACOSH support the current approach to e-cigarettes:
- There’s accumulating evidence that e-cigarettes are not safe, particularly in relation to heart and respiratory disease.
- There’s insufficient evidence to confirm whether e-cigarettes are effective for smoking cessation.
- There is alarming evidence that e-cigarettes are gateway to traditional smoking among young people.
Heated Tobacco FAQs
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What are Heated Tobacco Products?
HTPs, also known as “heat-not-burn” or tobacco heating products are battery-powered heating systems that produce aerosols by heating tobacco at lower temperatures than traditional cigarettes. The user draws on the mouthpiece to inhale the aerosol. They are not the same as e-cigarettes as they heat real tobacco while e-cigarettes vaporise e-liquids containing nicotine and flavours.
How is the Tobacco Industry Involved?
Many of the major tobacco companies produce HTPs, with HTP brands including IQOS Philip Morris International (PMI), Ploom Tech Japan Tobacco International, Glo British American Tobacco and Pulze Imperial Tobacco. PMI first launched IQOS in 2014 and by 2021 it was available in 62 countries.
What is the Policy Landscape for HTPs in Australia?
HTPs are not permitted in Australia under the Commonwealth ‘Poisons Standard’.
Who is Fighting to Make HTPs Freely Available in Australia?
Big Tobacco are trying to find ways around Australia’s laws in order to sell these devices. In 2019, Phillip Morris applied to the TGA for an exemption on tobacco HeatSticks used with the iQOS heated tobacco device. Thankfully, the application was rejected in 2020 with the TGA stating “maintaining the current scheduling for HTPs is necessary to protect public health from the risks associated with introducing a new nicotine product for non-therapeutic use”. ACOSH remains vigilant in our advocacy to ensure the tobacco industry’s attempts to invade the Australian market are unsuccessful.
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Are HTPs Safe?
There is no completely safe substance for the human lung to inhale besides clean air. The World Health Organization (WHO) also released a report stating there is currently no evidence that HTPs reduce the risk associated with tobacco products.
What are the Health Impacts of HTPs?
A WHO report on HTPs found:
- There’s currently no evidence that HTPs reduce the risks associated with tobacco products
- Secondhand exposure to HTP aerosols may pose risks to non-users
- HTPs generate aerosols that contain toxicants, many at levels lower than those in conventional tobacco smoke, however a lower level of a toxicant does not necessarily mean lower risk. In some cases, the level of toxicant is higher than in conventional tobacco smoke.
Why is Australia's Strict Approach to HTPs Important?
While tobacco companies like Philip Morris claim their HTP products are solely for adult smokers looking for a ‘less harmful’ alternative, their marketing paints a different picture. There is mounting evidence the company’s marketing strategy is to position IQOS as an exclusive and aspirational product aimed at young people. Researchers at Standford University conducted a comprehensive analysis finding an range of marketing strategies that are targeting youth and young adults.
In places where IQOS are sold, their shops look like Apple stores and the devices are sold in packaging similar to iPhones. In the stores, employees walk customers through the process on how to use the devices and smoke alongside them, discussing the taste and feel of the aerosol. This kind of strategy risks re-normalising and even glamourising smoking behaviours.
Philip Morris is also preparing a global initiative to develop IQOS Friendly Places with the intent to flout indoor smoke-free regulations by giving smokers another way to smoke in bars, restaurants, etc, putting patrons at risk. This encouraging of dual use, which is common for FTP users, also reinforces nicotine addiction.