Health Minister Greg Hunt has been forced to commission research on the potential health benefits of e-cigarettes, just six months after a parliamentary inquiry opposed their legalisation.
The Conservative Party has championed the legalisation of vaping with leader Cory Bernardi even taking a trip around Canberra's Parliament House in the pro-vaping campaign bus,"Vape Force One" earlier this year.
It is understood an “overwhelming majority” of Liberal parliamentarians now support legalising vaping and e-cigarettes as a way of helping cigarette smokers quit and that has significantly increased pressure on the Minister.
Even though Mr Hunt had earlier declared legalisation would not happen — “not on my watch” — he has agreed to the compromise position of further research. “The government will commission independent research in this area, possibly through the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University,” a spokeswoman for the minister said yesterday.
Mr Hunt’s back-down follows a vote by the West Australian Liberal Party last month that recommended supporting e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking.
New Zealand’s effective legalisation of e-cigarettes this year followed a paper published in the Internal Medical Journal of the Royal Australian College of Physicians supporting e-cigarettes.
Colin Mendelsohn, the tobacco treatment expert at the University of NSW and e-cigarettes advocate, who wrote the paper, said the US and Britain permitted the legal use of e-cigarettes and vaping, and legalisation could also happen in Australia.
“I think the momentum is really starting to shift,” Associate Professor Mendelsohn added, saying support for “harm minimisation” was gaining traction.
“Obviously the best thing for lungs is fresh air. But you have to compare vaping to smoking, and the risk from vaping compared to smoking is tiny. No one is saying it’s risk-free. It’s harm reduction. It’s not harm elimination.”
Senator Bernardi says the Federal Government's rejection of legalisation of nicotine vaping is madness given that it's 95% safer than smoking cigarettes and offers a 60% better quit rate than going cold turkey.
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