Thursday, 25 February 2021
Thank you, Madam Deputy President. As I was saying, this motion is full of conspiracy theories about money and funding and connections. I think Senator Griff got out the ball of wool and the corkboard and started tying tacks between different people to make connections. There are more conspiracy theories in this motion than a Q thread on Twitter. In fact, I think that by moving this motion Senator Griff is actually the Q Shaman of the Australian Senate. He just needs a Viking cap, some body paint and he'll be away. This debate is absolutely descending into conspiracy theories—not the facts, not the relevant information.
I listened closely to Senator Griff's contribution earlier and there was absolutely no attempt to deal with the real evidence that exists around the world—the decisions and law changes that have been made in other countries—that the use of e-cigarettes can cut smoking rates and save lives. There was no attempt at all from Senator Griff to engage with that. I'm happy to say that I recognise that our regulatory authorities—our TGA, our Department of Health—have a different view to those other people, but they are very much outliers. Almost every other country in the world, certainly developed countries like ours, has taken steps to legalise vaping or at least allow and promote its use as a useful quit-smoking aid. There is no attempt in Senator Griff's motion to deal with those issues and confront that evidence. It's just, 'Oh, these people here are getting money,' and, 'Someone is friends with that person over there,' and, 'There was an article in the paper that says bad things and therefore they all must be evil and terrible.' Let's actually take it back to the evidence and the data, because this debate, these issues, involves real people's lives and opportunities. The real people in this debate are often ignored and derided, as we've seen through the sham of a Senate committee process and in the debate over the past few months. Real people are derided. Real people are told they don't know what they're talking about. Real people are told that they should just go cold turkey and not worry about using things that have helped them get off a terrible, terrible habit.
I want to say upfront that all of us share the view that we'd like to see smoking rates fall. All of us share the view that smoking is a terrible habit that we hope people don't get addicted to. All of us agree that smoking kills far too many people in this country. It is still the largest killer of Australians, as to the use of alcohol or drugs.
I and other advocates for the legalisation of e-cigarettes don't want to see people take up e-cigarettes either, because we understand that there are risks around the use of nicotine. But it is clearly the case that e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking. Senator Griff can argue the toss over whether it's 95 per cent lower or 50 per cent, but he can't walk away from the fact that the federal Department of Health have ruled that vaping or e-cigarettes are much less harmful than cigarettes—they said that in the Senate inquiry. They are much less harmful. What's the percentage figure? I don't know.
But I'd love to see people use less harmful things rather than more harmful things. It's a pretty simple rule. I'd love to see that happen. But it's hard to have that happen in this country because we continue to lag behind the world in the use of the latest evidence and the legalisation of these products so more people can quit and improve their lives.
There are accusations that all these views that I and others take are all because big bad companies want us to, and all this rubbish. Well, I want to say: it's actually real people that I've had connection with that have influenced my views on this issue. I don't smoke. I hadn't vaped until the inquiry. I vaped for the first time, somewhere—at a Christmas party, I think—over Christmas. I don't like it. I'm not going to take it up. It was never something personal for me. But it was real people who I knew whom these products had helped to quit—real people who contacted me, after the government announced a ban on the importation of liquid nicotine to take effect within a week, who were very worried about what was going to happen to their lives and to their mental health in the middle of a pandemic. That's what caused and triggered me to get involved in this.
A few months ago, I was touring around coalmines—as I like to do, from time to time!—and I went to a crib room and spoke to a couple of truck drivers, and one of them there said, 'Oh, yeah, I know you. I get your emails.' And I thought, 'This bloke probably knows that I kind of like coal. Despite the Labor Party's attempts to shut it down, I want to support their jobs and support their livelihoods.' And I thought he might be on that email distribution list. But, no, straightaway he said: 'You're the vaping guy. You want to let me keep vaping. I like you.' Guess what? At the mines—and a lot of the Labor Party senators wouldn't know this because they don't go to mines or those sorts of places anymore—quite often, smoking is banned. It's banned because it's not a useful thing to have, particularly at a coal mine; you don't want flames around. So it's banned. So those people who are, unfortunately, addicted to nicotine don't have a lot of other choices. You people can say that there are gums and all this other stuff, but you're not connecting it back to the real world. These guys work in a hard job. They work 12 hours a day. They're away from their families for weeks at a time. And then people over here want to deny them the right to have just a little bit of relief in their lives. They want to deny them that right because they think they know better—they know better than what that coalminer thinks in Moranbah. That's what sums up this whole debate. Senator Griff, Senator Sheldon and other senators in this place think they know better than the average worker in a coalmine about what's good for them.
Well, I back average, everyday Australians to make decisions about their health. It's unfortunate that too many Australians have found themselves addicted to nicotine and reliant on smokes to get it. But I do back adult Australians to make decisions about how they want to try to kick the habit and have a better life—particularly when e-cigarettes are clearly less harmful than smoking. All the evidence says that.
As I said before, Senator Griff refused to engage with the overseas evidence that clearly says this. He refused to even indicate that other countries have clearly adopted and legalised e-cigarette products and have done so because of the clear evidence that they help. The motion Senator Griff has put up is very timely, though, because just yesterday Public Health England released a comprehensive report, which they do annually, on the effects of e-cigarettes. It's a very comprehensive report. It's about 426 pages. I would recommend it to all senators interested in this debate. The attitude and conclusions of Public Health England are very different from those of our own health authorities. As I said, I recognise our health authorities have a different view, but they are not the Pope; they are not infallible. We should look at all the evidence around the world, especially in countries which have taken a different path to us. Public Health England demonstrate clear evidence of the impact of the legalisation of vaping and the benefits that has had for real people, who should be the centre of that debate.
This report by Public Health England, which was published yesterday, said:
That is 50,000 real people in the United Kingdom who no longer have a terrible habit, thanks to the use of vaping. The report went on to say:
This goes to the point. Senator Griff wanted to deride the evidence that vaping is less harmful. Senator Griff's statements are harmful of themselves, because he perpetuates the myth, which is very prevalent among smokers, that vaping is just as bad as smoking. According to Public Health England, more than half of smokers believe that vaping is harmful or more harmful than smoking. That will obviously prevent people from choosing a less harmful product, because they are fed myths and lies by the advocates or those that are standing against vaping. The report went on to say:
They estimate that, over the past two years, between 60 per cent and 74 per cent of those who used a vaping product were successful in quitting. That's real evidence, not speculation, not complicated econometric tests. It's real evidence that more than half of people in the United Kingdom who try vaping products actually end up successfully quitting. That's pretty good. The report continued:
Vaping has plateaued in adults and young people since the last PHE report in March 2020.
This report comes out every year, and there is no evidence that vaping has increased among young people, which is often a criticism made of attempts at legalisation. It has actually plateaued. There hasn't been any increase among young people. Importantly, on this point, the report states that around 4.8 per cent of young people—in this report they're defined as aged between 11 and 18—reported vaping at least once a month, which is the same as for last year. Obviously that's unfortunate. We don't want to see any young people take up this habit, but there's no evidence of an increase. And the report says that most of these people were either current or former smokers. So, even in the category of young people aged 11 to 18 who were vaping, most of them had been former smokers or were current smokers. As we know, smoking is even worse. The report says that only 0.8 per cent—less than one per cent—of young people who had never smoked currently vape.
I know there is a scare campaign saying that vaping will lead to young people taking up smoking or worse products, but there's not a lot of evidence around the world that that actually happens. Again, I stress that, if there were a legalisation attempt, we'd all support restrictions to make sure that under-age Australians would not have access to these products. We would restrict it, just as we do with smoking. Is it perfect? No. But is anyone here going to stand up and say, 'No young people smoke in this country'? It's illegal to sell smokes to someone below the age of 18. It's illegal for an under-age person to use a tobacco-smoke product, but, unfortunately, it happens.
We would be better off trying to impose real enforcement efforts rather than put a blindfold on and think none of this actually occurs. That's why we should look at things like the New Zealand parliament and what they have done. It is another example of a country like ours taking steps to legalise vaping because they've seen the clear evidence that it can help cut smoking rates. They have adopted a model with very strict advertising, selling and retail arrangements to prevent this product getting into the hands of young people. They have allowed the product to be used as a quit aid. The fact that we close our eyes to the evidence indicates to me that the entrenched positions some have taken in the Department of Health and other organisations are the real barrier to progress and to making people's lives better.
The other side here, and Senator Griff said the same, like to say that the US is the example. The US is a free-for-all, and no-one is advocating that model. We don't want that. We don't want THC in our products. We don't want vitamin E acetate. They are causing real issues. But let's have proper regulation to make sure that we can help those in this country who find themselves addicted to nicotine and actually return this debate to them.
This debate is not about the health bureaucrats. It's not about the health academics. It's not about what our position has been or how successful we've been as a country in the last few decades in cutting smoking. It is about the 12 per cent of Australians who continue to smoke on a daily basis and need some help to get off a terrible habit so they can have better lives, so they can be better mothers, better fathers, and they don't continue this habit throughout generations in this country.