Urgent action needed on e-cigarettes, public health experts say
E-cigarettes – commonly called “vapes” – and the companies behind them continue to present challenges to public health in Australia, according to public health experts.
In a new study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, experts working in tobacco control, including researchers, public health intervention developers, public servants, and health practitioners were interviewed about the challenges and opportunities associated with e-cigarettes in Australia.
Most of the 34 experts interviewed expressed concerns about the appeal and uptake of e-cigarettes among young people, with the potential for this use to lead to tobacco cigarette smoking.
Study lead author University of Melbourne Associate Professor Michelle Jongenelis, from the Melbourne Centre for Behaviour Change, said: “The experts I interviewed expressed concerns that e-cigarettes are designed to be especially attractive to youth. They are brightly coloured and available in thousands of flavours like Skittles and Fruit Loops.
“The products wouldn’t look out of place in a lolly shop.”
Another concerning development for experts was the extent to which the tobacco and e-cigarette industries were shaping public health discussions related to e-cigarettes.
“Those interviewed were concerned that these industries are presenting themselves as sources of health advice and ‘part of the solution’ to reducing smoking rates, which is at odds with their attempts to normalise e-cigarette use and addict a new generation to nicotine,” Associate Professor Jongenelis said.
“Tobacco and e-cigarette industries are trying to influence the evidence base by producing research via third parties and funding researchers. Unsurprisingly, the results of this research are always in their favour.”
Political lobbying was also of great concern, with experts describing industry attempts to have e-cigarettes regulated as consumer goods as “relentless”.
“Tighter regulation and increased enforcement of existing laws are needed to address the challenges posed by e-cigarettes”, Associate Professor Jongenelis said.
“The products do not need to be made available on every street corner.”
The experts considered prohibiting e-cigarette retail and online sales to address the ease with which e-cigarette products can be purchased, prohibiting the number of available e-liquid flavours, and introducing controls on online advertising and product packaging as important actions to Australia’s tobacco control efforts.
The current approach of providing controlled access to liquid nicotine under a pharmaceutical model, while not without its limitations, offers an opportunity for smokers to access the behavioural support needed for them to increase their chances of successfully quitting smoking.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration’s public consultation on regulatory reforms for e-cigarettes closed on 16 January.
The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.