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Colin Mendelsohn, a veteran Australian tobacco harm reduction advocate, recently had the opportunity to educate lawmakers about the science underpinning vaping, the moral panic surrounding nicotine and the consequences of Australia's prohibitionist stance on vaping. In this episode we have collected a series of powerful points that Colin made in his discussion with lawmakers.


0:00 - Coming up on today's programme
1:05 - Vape restrictions push vapers to black market
2:16 - Is vaping a health crisis?


00:00:04 --> 00:01:03

Joanna Junak: Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on GFN.TV. There are still a lot of myths and rampant misinformation around safer nicotine products in Australia. This month, Dr Colin Mendelson, an academic and researcher in tobacco treatment, gave evidence at the New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry into vaping. He aimed to introduce lawmakers to the actual evidence and explained that vaping is beneficial overall to public health. Today we are introducing fragments of Colin's speech and the full video can be found on Colin's blog. Let's hear what he has to say.

00:01:04 --> 00:02:36

Colin Mendelsohn: So, Australia's policy on vaping is driven by valid concerns about harm to young people. But we need to balance the small harms to young people against the substantial benefits of vaping in reducing death and disease from smoking. Modelling studies consistently show that vaping has a positive effect on public health overall, and regulations should reflect that. What we currently have with vaping in Australia is prohibition and drug prohibitions are rarely successful. Vaping is so harshly restricted in Australia that over 90% of users don't comply with the current regulations. This has predictably created a thriving and dangerous black market controlled by criminal gangs with serious escalating violence. The vast majority of products are unregulated, have no quality control, and we've made it easier, not harder, for young people to access these products. And perhaps most importantly, we've reduced legal access by smokers who need these products to quit. To answer some of the questions, is vaping a health crisis? Absolutely not. It's perceived and promoted as a health crisis. What's a health crisis is that 20,000 Australians are dying every year from smoking. That's a health crisis. No one has ever died from vaping nicotine. We've heard about EVALI this morning.

00:02:36 --> 00:02:39

Hugh McDermott: But isn't that just because we don't have the long-term effects yet?

00:02:39 --> 00:05:19

Colin Mendelsohn: We've had 20 years. If there was going to be some concern, after 20 years we'd have some clear evidence. In terms of long-term harm, I have to say, I think that's a bit of a furphy. We never insist on long-term proof of harm in any new treatment that we introduce. We introduced COVID vaccines after three months. We weren't concerned about, oh, but what about in 30 years' time we might find there's some problem? We thought, no, the risk of delaying this is much greater than the potential risk of introducing it. And that's how we make medical decisions. And to say that we don't have long-term harm, therefore we shouldn't use it, ignores the fact that 20,000 people are dying every year in Australia, 8 million globally every year. And we've got to consider that in our long-term assessment. Just on the point that you made earlier about are e-cigarettes actually safer than smoking, there is no question that e-cigarettes are dramatically safer than smoking. From the scientific research, we know that there's over 7,000 chemicals in smoke, mostly in high doses. There's generally less than 200 chemicals in vapour. They're mostly less than 5%. Almost all are less than 1% of what they are in smoke. We know that the poisons in vapour, after they've switched from smoking, drop dramatically. We know that people, when they switch from smoking, their asthma improves, their COPD improves, their blood pressure improves, their lung function improves, they have fewer respiratory functions. So I think there's a lot of moral panic about the harm to young people, but the facts from the scientific literature do not support that being a serious concern. And I have to say that of all the people who vape in Australia, teenagers are less than 5% of the total. And I think we need to look at the balance of that in determining our policy to vaping. Are we going to make a policy that's causing a small amount of harm to a small number of people? And to what extent do we need to consider the needs of the 95% of people who vape who are at immediate and substantial risk from smoking, which otherwise many of them would be doing. What I'm saying is that there are positive benefits from nicotine, and that's one of the reasons people smoke. They smoke to relax, they smoke to help them concentrate, they smoke because they enjoy it. I'm saying that some of the kids who use these products will experience some of those positive benefits. I'm also saying that I don't think kids should smoke or vape, but that's why they're choosing to use these products.