Tobacco control needs evidence-based action by Governments

Media Release
12 March 2019

Governments should implement evidence-based action to continue the decline in smoking, and not bypass public health safeguards by allowing sale of novel and potentially harmful products.

A paper published today in the journal Epidemiology attempts to model the impact of easier access to e-cigarettes in Australia and New Zealand.

“The model used by the authors of this paper includes incorrect, out of date, or at best very optimistic assumptions data for relative safety, incorrect data for youth uptake, incorrect data for transition from dual use to non-smoking,” said Professor Matthew Peters, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Macquarie University and past President of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand.

“This study is based on a discredited estimate that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than traditional cigarettes and ignores the growing evidence about the harms of e-cigarettes.

“It also misrepresents a major report, and ignores recent studies that show no reduction in potential tobacco-related disease, and no improvement in general health associated with sole e-cigarette use or dual use compared to tobacco smoking alone,” said Professor Peters.

“To further reduce the prevalence of smoking in Australia, Governments need to implement evidence-based strategies that we know to be effective as part of a comprehensive approach,” said Maurice Swanson, Executive Director of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health.

“The key missing ingredient since 2013 is a well-funded, hard-hitting, TV-led public education campaign funded by the Federal Government.

“Disturbingly, the authors of this modelling study also ignore recent alarms sounded by the US Surgeon General and Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration about the “epidemic” of vaping there by adolescents.

“In a country where e-cigarettes are freely available and promoted, the use of e-cigarettes by middle school students in the US increased by 48%, and in high school students by 78% comparing 2017 and 2018.

“Despite having stricter regulations, the latest Australian survey shows that in 2017, 48% of students aged 12 to 17 years-old who had used e-cigarettes reported they had never smoked a tobacco cigarette before.

“These findings add to other convincing evidence that e-cigarettes are an on-ramp to the use of traditional cigarettes for children and young people,” Mr Swanson said.

The Australian Council on Smoking and Health, along with many of Australia’s leading health and medical organisations, strongly believe that current advice on e-cigarettes from our leading independent health advisory bodies, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), is appropriate and evidence-based.

Both the NHMRC and TGA have concluded that there is insufficient evidence on the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes to change existing regulations that would make them more freely available.

“We do need more action to continue the decline”, Mr Swanson said, “but the action we know works – a comprehensive approach including taxation, media campaigns, smoke-free measures and cessation supports”.

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Maurice Swanson, ACOSH Executive Director, 0401 090 915
Professor Matthew Peters, 0407 499 440