Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator Cash. During the health policy election debate, Minister Hunt referred to a decision by the United States Food and Drug Administration to authorise a smoke-free nicotine-delivery product on the basis that it was appropriate for the protection of public health as a public health disaster. Commissioner Gottlieb of the FDA referred to the need to redouble efforts to protect kids from all nicotine-containing products but also said:
… I also hope that we can all see the potential benefits to addicted cigarette smokers, in a properly regulated marketplace, of products capable of delivering nicotine without having to set tobacco on fire.
Given the government's failure to address Australia's stagnant smoking rates, will the government commit to understanding and implementing a system to review and approve products appropriate for the protection of public health?
I thank Senator Bernardi for the question and for giving some prior notice. Senator Bernardi, as you would be aware, in relation to e-cigarettes the Australian government is taking a precautionary approach. As you would also be aware, presently nicotine for use in e-cigarettes cannot be lawfully sold in Australia. The government will continue to monitor evidence about the safety of e-cigarettes, their impact on smoking initiation and cessation, uptake amongst youth and dual use with conventional tobacco products.
In terms of the commitment that we have made, through the National Health and Medical Research Council the government has supported 12 grants and committed over $12 million to research e-cigarettes since 2011. You would also be aware that the government has also commissioned the National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health at the Australian National University to conduct a public health assessment of e-cigarette use. This assessment was designed by the centre and it will be independent. It will provide further evidence to support high-quality decision-making on e-cigarettes for the Australian context.
Thank you, Minister, and I appreciate your reference to the independent inquiry into the health impacts of nicotine e-cigarettes. Are you able to let me know when that inquiry commenced, the terms of reference for this inquiry, its current status and its reporting time frame?
Senator Bernardi, as I've said, the government has made the reference to the centre at the ANU. The reference itself will be an independent review. As it is a review of the evidence, the project does not have terms of reference. It is a review of the actual evidence—that is what the project will be doing. The project will include consideration of the health impact of e-cigarettes on specific population subgroups, including current smokers, former smokers and people who have never regularly smoked tobacco, and different age groups, including youth and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I'm instructed that the project is expected to be completed by December 2020.
Thank you, Minister. I presume any reference from a government to an independent body would still have to have terms of reference. I'd appreciate that on notice, if you wouldn't mind. What scientific, medical or other evidence has the government received in relation to the products reviewed and authorised by the FDA? Has this evidence in the FDA ruling been provided to the ANU?
Senator Bernardi, as I stated in my previous answer, we have commissioned the review. The assessment itself was designed by the centre and, as such, is independent. As I've said, it is a review of the evidence and, as such, the evidence will be reviewed. The understanding is that that would include the evidence you have referred to.