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Big tobacco’s push to legalise e-cigarettes needs to be quashed immediately

If Philip Morris truly believed it’s push to legalise e-cigarettes containing nicotine in this country had merit it would be making its case publicly and under its own name.

The fact the tobacco giant is using its catspaw smokers’ rights lobby group “I Deserve To Be Heard” to lend the argument the dubious legitimacy of contrived popular support is, in itself, a good reason for the Federal Government to refuse to give this matter any oxygen.

Another is that in the almost 500 years since Spanish merchants introduced tobacco to Europe from the New World big tobacco’s track record of advocating anything in the public interest has been appalling.

It’s a pretty good bet, just on the historical record, that if Philip Morris thinks it would benefit from the legalisation of e-cigarettes there’s likely some sort of downside for the broader society.

Despite the handsome revenues governments rake in from the taxes, levies and charges imposed on what is arguably the most deadly mass consumption product available for public sale, the industry, and its users, always come out ahead.

The costs to other taxpayers from picking up the burden of additional healthcare and lost productivity arising from the chronic illnesses and early deaths caused by consumption on tobacco products far outweigh the revenues that come in.

An estimated 15,000 Australians die of smoking related causes each year at a cost to the community, in terms of health expenditure and economic costs, of $31.5 billion a year. This is almost three times the roughly $12 billion spent on tobacco products in Australia in 2015.

This is not a message big tobacco is keen to spread. Instead, by enlisting proxies from the nicotine-using and “vaping” communities, it is trying to play this as a “free speech” and “freedom of choice” issue.

That is not the case. Public health was, is and must always be, the core issue in the smoking debate. Everything else, as was demonstrated by the industry’s failed bid to overturn plain packaging, is a side show.

Health concerns were behind the many initiatives, including increased prices, that have seen Australian smoking rates fall to less than 13 per cent compared to 1945 when 72 per cent of males and 26 per cent of females smoked.

Today’s battle is not so much to wean the last hard core smokers off the habit as it is to stop young people from taking it up.

This is why e-cigarettes, which could be touted as a “reduced risk” and potentially “cool” way to imbibe must stay banned.

If legalised they would simply serve as yet another gateway towards the use of the traditional product.

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