Vapers filled the steps in front of Parliament House in Victoria, Australia this week, protesting new state restrictions and supporting national legalization of nicotine in vapor products. They got some attention in the mainstream news, and may have changed minds. Nicotine is classified as a dangerous poison in Australia, and is illegal — except in combustible cigarettes, of course.
Speakers at the rally included Dr. Attila Danko, president of the New Nicotine Alliance Australia (NNA), and Prof. Colin Mendelsohn, of the University of New South Wales. Mendelsohn’s speech at the rally came the same day his op-ed supporting nicotine legalization appeared in the newspaper The Age.
Despite the intuitive common sense of harm reduction, the introduction of harm reduction strategies over the years has struggled against relentless hostility in Australia. Proposals such as car seat belts, needle exchange for injecting drug users and methadone substitution for heroin users have been strongly opposed, but ultimately turn out to be significantly more successful than expected.
The resistance to e-cigarettes appears to be following the same inexorable pattern. Federal and state governments and health organisations in Australia have taken a prohibitionist, risk-averse view on nicotine and e-cigarettes without considering the substantial health benefits.
Later in the week, Prof. Mendelsohn had another opinion piece published, this one in the Huffington Post-Australia, opposing the proposed new Victorian law that will add burdensome restrictions to vape shops in the state. “The proposed legislation is focused solely on avoiding potential dubious risks but ignores the substantial health benefits to smokers,” wrote Dr. Mendelsohn. “This legislation could have the unintended consequence of undermining a potentially life-saving technology. It will diminish the appeal of vaping relative to smoking and may even destroy the industry altogether, enhancing the unregulated black market.”
“E-cigarettes represent a massive opportunity for Victorian smokers and have the potential for substantial improvements in public health,” wrote Dr. Mendelsohn. “We cannot afford not to embrace them.” Dr. Mendelsohn spoke for all vapers in Australia, and for people everywhere who support vaping as a harm reduction tool.