ANU report fails to inform public health policy

The Australia Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA) has today hit back at a preliminary report released by the Australian National University (ANU) on e-cigarettes and smoking behaviour, which contradicts the findings of government reviews from both the United Kingdom and New Zealand where vaping has been successfully adopted as a public health strategy.

Dr Colin Mendelsohn, a Director of ATHRA, said the report appears to have relied heavily on studies which have not undergone peer-review, and has made some very controversial claims which are not consistent with the overall scientific evidence and overseas experience.

The report claims there is not enough evidence that vaping helps smokers quit. However, randomised controlled trials have shown that vaping is more effective than nicotine patches and gum. Numerous studies in large populations in the UK and US show that vaping is accelerating the decline in smoking rates.

Public Health England’s 2018 review concluded that e-cigarette use “is associated with improved quit success rates and a decline in smoking prevalence.”

The report’s claim that vaping is leading young people to take up smoking was also surprising. “There is no evidence that vaping actually causes a significant number of young people to try smoking if they would not otherwise have done so,” said Dr Mendelsohn.

“Most youth vaping is experimental and short term and most young people who try vaping are already smokers. Vaping appears to be diverting youth from smoking. For example, in the US, the decline in smoking accelerated two to four times in youth after 2014 when vaping became popular.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health stated this year “Despite some experimentation with vaping products among never smokers, vaping products are attracting very few people who have never smoked into regular vaping, including young people.”

“Concerns about the uptake of vaping by adult non-smokers in the report are also exaggerated as vaping by non-smokers is rare. International surveys have found that vaping by adult non-smokers is generally <1% and most of these vape infrequently and often without nicotine.”

Dr Mendelsohn said the report’s support for unaided quitting, or ‘cold turkey’ was hard to understand as unaided quitting is the least effective quitting method and has a failure rate of 95-97 percent.

“Many smokers will try repeatedly and quit unaided eventually, but often after smoking-related harm has developed over many years,” said Dr Mendelsohn.

“The best advice for smokers is to quit as soon as possible with the most effective method and vaping has proven world-wide to be one of them.

“For smokers who can’t quit, switching to vaping dramatically reduces their risk of death and disease. Long-term use of nicotine is only a minor concern in comparison, which is why more than 500,000 Australians have made this choice.”

“We need to be doing everything we can to help Australia’s 2.9 million smokers quit the deadly habit which kills more than 21,000 Australians every year,” said Dr Mendelsohn.

In Australia, smoking rates did not decline from 2016-2019 for adults over 40 years of age who are at high risk of dying from their habit. It makes no sense to deny these smokers options that could help them become smoke free.”

“The Government’s plan to ban the personal importation of nicotine from 1 January 2021 will increase smoking rates as many of Australia’s vapers will have no choice but to return to smoking. The plan will make access to nicotine available only through a doctor’s prescription and pharmacy and is complex, costly and bound to fail.”


Dr Colin Mendelsohn
M: 0415 976 783 | E:

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