Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:58): There is a slight feeling of groundhog day because I think when we started this motion earlier this year I spoke after Ms Terpstra did. I would just like to start by congratulating Ms Terpstra and Mr Finn on successfully quitting tobacco and successfully quitting smoking. As both of you attest, it is not easy. It is incredibly difficult, and this is why this motion is important. This is why: we can look at providing every tool to stop someone dying from lung cancer. As Ms Terpstra mentioned, she has a very personal connection with that, and many of us would have a friend or a family member who has died from smoking-related diseases. In fact it is, as this motion puts it, one of the biggest killers. It kills hundreds of thousands of people in Australia every year. So we should be doing everything that we can to stop that, to reduce that, and we know that we are not. We are not because we are refusing to accept the science around vaping. We are refusing to accept the science around tobacco harm reduction.
People say, ‘We’re not entirely sure. There’s not been enough evidence’. I have just been reading—and I was actually very privileged to write the foreword for—the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2020. In this report it shows that actually there have been about 6000 studies done on vaping. We know the science. We know that, yes, it is not entirely safe, but neither is aspirin and neither are vitamin D tablets. In fact there is probably nothing in this world that is 100 per cent absolutely safe, but what we do know is that they are far safer than smoking. We do know that these do not affect your lungs in the same way as smoking does. We do know that smokers who use vaping as a form of quitting or reducing the number of cigarettes that they have are very successful—far more successful than patches, far more successful than chewing gum and I would possibly even say more successful than hypnotherapy.
Vaping has proven to be extremely successful in assisting people to reduce the harms of tobacco smoking; there is no doubt. I know the previous speaker, Ms Terpstra, has a good interest in Japan. Japan has cut its rates of smoking by 32 per cent since the introduction of heat-not-burn tobacco and vaping—32 per cent. Guess how much Victoria has reduced its smoking rates in the same time? It is 1 per cent. We actually had a goal to be, I think, down to 5 per cent smoking rates by the year 2010. All right, we did not hit that—failed. Let us set it for 2020—failed again. In fact our smoking rates have remained stagnant in Australia and in Victoria for years now.
What we actually saw during COVID, probably for the first time in 50 years, was an increase in smoking in Victoria. Those stats will come out in just a few weeks, but they will show that there has actually been an increase in smoking rates in Victoria since COVID and during COVID. That is incredibly alarming, and we know that it actually affects our low-income and most disadvantaged people. If you pick the five most disadvantaged postcodes in Victoria, that is where you will find the highest level of smoking. So this motion is very important in that.
I know Ms Terpstra talked about the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the household survey, but because we do not assist people to access this very, very good and safer treatment for reducing or quitting smoking, we do not enable people to do that. In New Zealand they are looking towards zero smoking. They are looking to be a smoke-free country by 2030, and they are on track. Do you know what they are using? They are using vapes. They are using e-cigarettes. They are using these nicotine devices where you do not smoke, and they are finding incredible success. They did this really interesting study with some Maori women. These were Maori women in a very disadvantaged part of the North Island of New Zealand. These women were struggling to pay for their tobacco and food for the table, and quite often they were skipping meals to ensure that their children had food and that they could maintain their addiction.
In that case the New Zealand health department ran a pilot where they offered them vapes, and 50 per cent of them stopped smoking—50 per cent. You do not see those types of quit rates anywhere—ever—with cold turkey or just say no or patches or Nicorette. This was a phenomenal result, and that result one year later is still at that rate. They had an incredible result there. Why are we not allowing this? We look at harm reduction in every other way.
Australia was one of those early adopters for needle and syringe exchanges because we knew that if we could provide clean equipment to people who were using drugs intravenously that that could prevent diseases like HIV and hepatitis C from being transmitted, and we were right and we were successful. So why are we not taking this same approach of harm reduction when it comes to tobacco? I just do not know.
And people say, ‘Oh, it’s big tobacco’. Well, I tell you, by prohibiting these types of products you are falling straight into the hands of big tobacco. Big tobacco loves the prohibition on e-cigarettes—absolutely loves it. This is the best thing for them. Now, this is very speculative but I have questioned the Cancer Council because one of their biggest donors is Woolworths. Guess what? Woolworths is the biggest retailer of tobacco in Australia. I know I am probably putting two and two together and getting five, but the Cancer Council opposes this harm reduction product. It opposes it—says you should not use it, there is not enough research, it might be dangerous. They will concede that it is safer than smoking, but they will not accept that it should be part of a harm reduction policy, a harm reduction platform, a smoking cessation platform. They do not accept that, and that is the problem, but they accept money from one of the biggest tobacco retailers in Australia.
I know there are other smokers who want to speak. I am not a smoker. I was a smoker. I am a vaper though. And I do not vape often because I did not smoke often. I was a social smoker and I am a social vaper, but I have not touched tobacco for, well, we are getting on nearly two years, and I am around smokers a lot. From a personal perspective I have found that it worked for me, and from the number of people who have written to me about how it has saved their life, I cannot for the life of me understand why the Victorian government—who has been a leader in harm reduction, a leader in harm minimisation—would not fully support nicotine vaping as a safer alternative for smokers. I fully support this motion.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Motion by Mr Limbrick’s 9/12/20
Mr LIMBRICK (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:52): I move:
That this house notes that:
(1) according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, smoking was responsible for 9.3 per cent of the total burden of disease in Australia in 2015 and for more than one in every eight deaths;
(2) the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019 report shows that despite a de facto ban on nicotine e-liquids, the rate of vaping has more than doubled since
2016, with 2.5 per cent of the population aged 14 years and over now using e-cigarettes;
(3) the report showed that vaping is primarily used as a quitting tool by smokers, with 44 per cent using it to quit, 32 per cent to cut down on smoking, 23 per cent to avoid relapse and 27 per cent to reduce harm
(4) according to the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Physicians, nicotine vaping is at least 95 per cent safer than smoking;
(5) regulation needs to strike the right balance between providing access for addicted smokers, while enforcing a minimum age of sale and strict penalties to discourage uptake by youth;
and calls on the government to support tobacco harm reduction by nicotine vaping as a safer alternative for smokers who are unable to quit through other methods and legalise nicotine liquid for vaping as a consumer product with appropriate and risk-proportionate regulations.