The tobacco harm reduction debate is hotly contested throughout Australia and especially Tasmania where declining smoking rates have stalled, a member of parliament wants to raise the legal smoking age to 21 and research has outlined the dangers of electronic cigarettes.
Vaping is a key part of the harm reduction debate. On one side, business and harm reduction groups have argued for the legalisation of tobacco vaping products for years. But, members of health and research communities have pushed back – drawing links between vaping and lung damage and suggesting that legalisation could lead to widespread use amongst young people.
Now a Senate inquiry is looking to get to the bottom of the debate. Submissions to the, relatively short, inquiry opened on Friday with a report expected in December.
Tasmanian Labor Senator Anne Urquhart, who sits on the Senate inquiry committee, said the aim was to understand the impact legalising vaping would have on health throughout Australia.
University of Tasmania Respiratory Translation Group research head Dr Sukhwinder Sohal is firmly against the legalisation of tobacco vaping.
Research, conducted by his team, has found that heat-not-burn tobacco product, IQOS, and electronic vapes were toxic to human cells.
Dr Sohal said arguing that vaping should be legalised because it is less harmful than traditional cigarettes doesn’t make sense.
“All of our research has seen that vaping and other electronic smoking devices … are actually quite toxic to human lung cells,” he said.
“So saying that these are less toxic is a wrong claim. They are quite toxic and we are basically shifting from one lethal tobacco product to another lethal tobacco product.
“The term “harm reduction” is frequently used and is misleading, as something is either harmful or not harmful.”