Thursday, May 23, 2024

Consumer is King: Exploring Tobacco Harm Reduction

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The first discussion of the GTNF 2023, titled “The Consumer is King,” took place at the Conrad Hotel in Seoul, South Korea on the afternoon of September 19th. Five tobacco industry professionals, including Samrat Chowdhery, Clarisse Virgino, Alex Clark, Fiona Patten, and Matthew Drodge, engaged in a debate on the topic. Among them, Fiona Patten from Australia expressed the belief that the Australian government has not effectively implemented tobacco harm reduction (THR).

Patten served as a member of the Victorian Parliament in Australia from 2014 to 2022, focusing on social reforms including medicinal marijuana, reducing drug harm (including tobacco), criminal justice reform, and the separation of church and state. After leaving Parliament, Patten has been actively involved in advocating for reducing tobacco harm, but she has expressed disappointment in the practices of her own country.

During the discussion, Paten, who is in Australia, participated via video conferencing. In the presence of guests and audience members, she candidly expressed her concerns about the flaws in the tobacco harm reduction policies currently implemented by the Australian government. This has resulted in 99% of Australians resorting to the illegal market to purchase e-cigarettes.

The existing policy on e-cigarettes in Australia has previously been discussed at the GFN forum.

Dr. Carolyn Beaumont, a general practitioner from Australia and founder of MedicalNicotine, delivered a speech at the Global Nicotine Forum (GFN) in June 2023, discussing the consequences of Australia’s ban on over-the-counter e-cigarettes.

Beaumont claims that Australia has not been successful in completely banning the use of non-prescription e-cigarettes, even after introducing a prescription e-cigarette system.

She estimates that illegal e-cigarettes make up 80% of all e-cigarette usage, with nearly 100% being used by young people. Beaumont, along with other scholars, elaborated on the regulatory failures with e-cigarettes in Australia, implying the need for more effective measures to address this issue.

The Australian government is set to tighten its policies on e-cigarettes starting in 2023. In May, the Minister for Health, Mark Butler, announced that the government will prohibit the import of non-prescription e-cigarette products. Additionally, they will establish minimum quality standards, which will include restrictions on e-cigarette flavors, packaging colors, and other ingredients. The packaging will have to resemble that of pharmaceutical products, with reduced nicotine concentration and capacity. Disposable e-cigarettes will also be explicitly banned.

In September, Butler announced plans to introduce stricter regulations to combat tobacco and e-cigarette use. He emphasized that tobacco control legislation is the “key” next step in the fight against tobacco and nicotine addiction, with the aim of reducing the national smoking rate to 5% by 2030. In order to eliminate e-cigarette use, advertising for e-cigarettes will be subject to restrictions.

Australia’s stringent government regulation on e-cigarettes has failed to curb rampant e-cigarette smuggling, as law enforcement authorities in Australia have continuously seized illegal e-cigarettes in the past six months.

On June 28th, authorities in Western Australia seized a total of 17,000 e-cigarettes worth AUD 1 million. A month later, on July 27th, Victoria Police conducted a surprise inspection at a business on Swanson Street and confiscated over 25,000 nicotine e-cigarette liquids and 2,500 packs of illegal tobacco cigarettes. The authorities estimated the value of these items to be around AUD 800,000. On August 14th, the Department of Health in Western Australia seized a staggering 30,000 e-cigarettes weighing 15 tons, with an estimated value of AUD 10 million. Additionally, they also seized over 10 tons of pods. This marked the largest-ever single seizure of e-cigarettes in the state and nationwide. On September 5th, more than 150 law enforcement officers in Queensland seized over AUD 835,000 in cash, over 8 million cigarette sticks, and approximately 3.74 tons of loose tobacco leaves worth over AUD 14 million. They also confiscated 60,000 e-cigarettes worth around AUD 1.8 million.

Patten disagrees with the current e-cigarette policy of the Australian government. She believes that this is affecting the harm reduction potential of e-cigarettes, and now, “organized crime is the only way for e-cigarettes to operate in Australia”.

Patten urges consumers to take action, stating, “As consumers, we should let the government know about this in order to promote policy advancement.

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