Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Question without notice 1/5/19
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:05): My question is for the Minister for Health and regards e-cigarettes, or more properly called vaporisers. About one in eight cancer deaths in Australia can still be attributed to smoking, underlining the importance of cessation strategies to our health system. The UK medicines regulator has approved a brand of vaporisers as an aid to help people stop smoking, which can be prescribed on their PBS. At least 64 scientific studies now demonstrate that smoke-free products like vaporisers are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, or are an effective way to quit for good. These studies include a publication in the prestigious peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine, which demonstrated that a one-year abstinence rate was 18 per cent in the vaporiser group, compared to 9 per cent in the nicotine-replacement therapies. My question is: will the minister revisit the e-cigarette laws introduced by the Tobacco Amendment Act 2016, in light of this emerging empirical evidence?
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan—Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services) (12:06): I thank the member for her question and I acknowledge her continued interest in this matter. I think I have just recently sent back to her what might be close to 50—it might be 100; it certainly felt like 100—written answers to questions on notice submitted by the member on tobacco-related matters. Can I just say that I am pleased that in her question she did reference a report that she was in attendance in hosting the launch of in this building from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which I point out is actually funded by Philip Morris International at about US$80 million per year. So it is important that members are relying on various reports and evidence and that it is not funded by the tobacco industry.
Ms Patten: On a point of order, President, I did not mention that report. It was the New England Journal of Medicine, not—
The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order. The minister to continue.
Ms MIKAKOS: I was in fact making the point that I am pleased that she is not relying on tobacco industry-funded reports in this question. The point that I make to the member is that we as a government are very proud of the tough laws that came into effect in 2017. The advertising, sale and use of e-cigarette devices are regulated in the same manner as tobacco products in order to minimise potential harms. I have discussed this before in terms of the fact that I do have concerns about e-cigarettes being used as a potential gateway for young people to start smoking. In fact this has been shown to be what is occurring in both the US and Europe. There is evidence in both the US and Europe to suggest that there is a gateway effect for young people. This is why we want to make sure that we do not renormalise smoking behaviours and nicotine addiction. There is of course a range of evidence that I am sure can be presented that can put contrary views around the merits or otherwise of e-cigarettes, and of course I obtain advice from my department about these matters from time to time. We will continue to monitor the evidence in relation to these issues, but we do think that we have taken an appropriate approach in relation to this issue in striking the right balance between any perceived potential benefits and also the risks to the Victorian community as a whole but particularly for young people who might then develop lifelong nicotine addiction problems. We will continue to monitor this issue, but we do think that we have taken the appropriate response in relation to these matters. I have taken up this issue at the Council of Australian Governments Health Council and shared some concerns that I have around products being accessed by young children in relation to e-liquids, and there is some work that is happening now in response to that by Safer Care Victoria as well. I am happy to provide more information to the member if she is interested in relation to that.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:09): Thank you, Minister. I would very much be interested in that. I have to say as an aside that the best way to ensure that that does not happen is to regulate the industry, not prohibit it. By way of supplementary, in New Zealand the Vape2Save program, which helps family groups of smokers switch to vaping together has been able to achieve outstanding quit rates, particularly within their Indigenous communities. Has the minister considered whether a similar program might be a viable option in addressing Victoria’s high Indigenous smoking rates?
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan—Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services) (12:10): I am quite sure that in the many responses I provided to the member we also gave her information about programs that are funded specifically for the Aboriginal community. She is correct in that we have very high smoking rates amongst our Aboriginal community in Victoria. This is in fact a nationwide problem, and I am very committed to working with our Aboriginal community health organisations to address this issue. I do not believe that e-cigarettes is the solution, however. We would no doubt agree to disagree on that one. But it is something that I am very committed to addressing, because they have very poor health outcomes generally. Smoking of course leads to higher rates of cancer and has other serious health consequences for Aboriginal Victorians. Can I just say that in relation to the issue of regulation that the member mentioned we are doing some work around e-liquids because we have a matter that is currently before coronial inquest being examined, and I am very concerned about young children being able to access e-liquids. I am happy to discuss it with her further.