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Experts fear legalising e-cig nicotine

It’s feared young people could again be encouraged to take up smoking if nicotine is allowed to be used in e-cigarettes.

E-cigarette devices are legal in Australia but the sale and possession of the nicotine used in them is illegal.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is seeking public submissions on a proposal to exempt nicotine from the Schedule 7 dangerous poisons list, at concentrations of 3.6 per cent or less, in a bid to reduce the harm caused by tobacco.

The proposal comes from the New Nicotine Alliance, a not-for-profit body that advocates safer alternatives to tobacco smoking.

Alliance spokeswoman Donna Darvill says it’s “ludicrous” to ban low-strength nicotine when deadly tobacco cigarettes can be purchased at any petrol station.

“Keeping nicotine-containing vaping devices illegal deprives many thousands of Australian smokers a safer alternative to burning tobacco,” she said.

But experts warn the medicines regulator will be bombarded by big tobacco companies, looking to e-cigarettes as another opportunity to get people hooked.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris sells e-cigarettes in Japan and some European countries, while e-cigarette company Nicoventures is owned by British American Tobacco.

“They will receive a large number of totally commercially driven submissions from people who see this as an opportunity to make a lot of money,” University of Sydney public health Professor Simon Chapman told AAP on Friday.

He says big tobacco hasn’t taken its foot off the accelerator when it comes to opposing tobacco control.

Companies are still taking governments to court over plain-packaging laws and lobbying against tobacco taxation.

“They’re doing all of that while at the same time trying to be on the side of angels by saying, ‘Oh we’re into harm reduction’.”

Curtin University professor of health policy Mike Daube, who chaired the federal government expert committee that recommended plain-packaging laws, called for caution around any move that could allow big tobacco to renormalise smoking.

There was evidence raising concerns about the safety of e-cigarettes and harms from nicotine.

“Smoking trends in Australia are as good as anywhere in the world and we have to be very careful that we don’t allow anything to distract us from the measures that are proven to reduce smoking,” he told AAP.

Prof Chapman says evidence from the US and Poland shows e-cigarettes are acting as a gateway to smoking for young people.

The smoking rate among 12 to 15-year-olds is 3.5 per cent, the lowest ever seen in Australia, and that could be jeopardized if the e-cigarette genie is let out of the bottle, he says.

It could also become a crutch preventing smokers from quitting altogether, he warns.

But tobacco treatment specialist Colin Mendelsohn says there’s no evidence to suggest e-cigarettes are being used as a gateway to smoking.

E-cigarettes are a “fantastic” option to help people quit smoking, he says.

“What you die from is the smoke, not the nicotine – this is tobacco harm reduction and that’s saving millions of lives,” Dr Mendelsohn said.

“If tobacco companies make money out of it, I couldn’t care less, I want people to stop smoking.”

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