Mr Deputy Speaker, approximately 2.4 million Australians smoke cigarettes daily and it has been estimated that two out of every three smokers will die prematurely due to their smoking.
Given these stark figures, reducing the number of Australians who smoke is one of the nation’s most important public health objectives.
This Committee has spent close to a year examining whether E cigarettes could assist in meeting that objective.
The Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport has a long history of delivering consensus and bipartisan reports.
On this occasion, that has not been possible and I find myself in the unusual position as Chair of co-authoring a dissenting report.
The Committee has been presented with starkly conflicting views during this inquiry and I respect those Committee members who have formed different judgements to my own.
I do, however, disagree with the conclusions reached by the majority of my colleagues.
The majority on the Committee made five recommendations, including two yearly reviews of the evidence, an international gathering of experts, a national approach to non-nicotine E-cigarettes including greater regulation of colours and flavourings and a continuation of the Therapeutic Goods Agency’s role in classifying nicotine.
I have presented a dissenting report along with my colleague, the Member for Goldstein.
The Member for Bowman has also submitted a dissenting report which concurs with our conclusions.
Australia has been a global leader in developing tobacco control policies.
This approach has been very successful — between 1991 and 2013 the proportion of Australians smoking daily dropped from 24 per cent to 12.8 per cent.
In recent years, however, progress has stalled with the daily smoking rate only dropping from 12.8 per cent to 12.2 per cent between 2013 and 2016.
It is highly unlikely Australia will reach its 2018 target of reducing smoking to 10 per cent of the population.
In these circumstances, a new approach is needed for those smokers who have been unable to quit smoking using the assistance currently available.
We need another weapon in the arsenal.
That’s why our dissenting report recommends that E-cigarettes containing nicotine should be made legal.
We know that nicotine is highly addictive. Quitting is hard and many smokers have unsuccessfully tried repeatedly.
Based on the evidence presented to the Committee, E cigarettes may be an answer for many of these people.
While the evidence base regarding E cigarettes is still emerging, there are clear indications that E-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to human health than smoking tobacco cigarettes.
If long term smokers who have been unable to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes switch to E cigarettes, thousands of lives could be saved.
One medical researcher whom the Committee met in New Zealand put the choice starkly:
She said: if a patient has earnestly tried existing ways of quitting but failed, then knowing the consequences of that patient continuing to smoke, how could a medical practitioner morally and ethically not recommend they consider E cigarettes?
Despite the potential health gains, Australia’s public health community has been resistant to the idea of making nicotine E-cigarettes legally available.
This stands in contrast to many of their counterparts in the United Kingdom and New Zealand who gave evidence to the Committee.
Many members of our health community are concerned that legally available nicotine E-cigarettes may, by extension, make smoking, attractive to young people. This is what is referred to as the gateway effect.
In those countries where nicotine E-cigarettes are legally available, however, there has not been an increase in youth smoking. In fact, smoking rates among young people continue to fall in jurisdictions where E-cigarettes are available.
If E-cigarettes are made legal we need the right regulatory environment – particularly one that recognises the need to prevent young people from taking up vaping.
Restrictions should be imposed to limit the appeal of E-cigarettes to young people and non-smokers.
In this regard the European Union and the United Kingdom provide excellent regulatory models.
Mr Deputy Speaker, in conclusion I would like to thank the organisations, agencies, and individuals who participated in this inquiry, especially those individuals who shared their personal experiences using E cigarettes.
The Committee also heard from witnesses from the United Kingdom and New Zealand and I thank them for the insight they provided.
Finally, I would like to thank my Committee colleagues for their consideration of the evidence during what has been a difficult inquiry and the Committee staff for their work which is always exceptionally professional.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend the report and obviously the dissenting reports to the House.