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Friday, 26 June 2020 16:13

Health Minister Greg Hunt has done the right thing with vaping ban Featured

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Greg Hunt faces plenty of opposition to his vaping ban, but is holding firm. Greg Hunt faces plenty of opposition to his vaping ban, but is holding firm. Courtesy YouTube

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt deserves all the public support he can get and kudos for putting in a place an import ban on vaping materials; it is the tobacco industry's way of getting in through the backdoor, and blocking it is the right way to go.

The Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris), took a 35% stake in Juul Labs, the industry leader for vaping devices, for $12.8 billion on 20 December 2018.

Once the new financial year gets underway, Scott Morrison's government will ask the governor-general to prohibit imports of e-cigarettes which contain vaporiser nicotine and nicotine-containing refills for e-cigarettes. One would need a doctor's prescription to bring either of these items into the country.

It will also be a crime to import nicotine as a liquid for vaping in any shape or form. Anyone violating this law will have to pay a fine of $220,000.

What makes Hunt's decision all the more praiseworthy is that it has been taken in the face of strong opposition from backbench MPs, the same bunch who have held up the government's progress whenever it has tried to even go near a climate change policy. A total of 28 MPs have drafted a letter condemning the restrictions.

[Update, Sunday 28 June: Sad to say, Hunt has caved in to pressure and said he will delay the ban by six months till January 2021.]

One of the louder voices among those who oppose the ban is George Christensen, the man who is known as the member for Manila because he has been spending so much time there.

On Facebook, Christensen said: “This was all done without any consultation with the public or many government MPs, including myself.

“I completely oppose the move, which could result in people returning to cigarettes or purchasing potentially dangerous alternatives on the black market.”

Another MP who is against the ban is former Institute of Public Affairs staffer James Paterson. He was quoted by Guardian Australia as saying: "Vaping is a safer alternative to smoking. We should be making it easier for smokers to quit, not harder. We should safely regulate vaping like virtually every other developed nation has done.”

Hunt set up an independent review in September 2018 to look into the health effects of nicotine e-cigarettes. Under the plan he has formulated, imports will be banned for 12 months, giving the Therapeutic Goods Administration time to find out how best to regulate vaporiser nicotine products, including nicotine-containing e-cigarettes.

Christensen and Nationals Senator Matt Canavan have launched a public petition on the Web and the MPs' letter claims more than 69,937 people have signed it.

"Australia once led the way in reducing smoking. But with such harsh restrictions on vaping, Australia risks reversing that trend. Australia is one of the few developed countries where e-cigarettes are not legal," the petition says.

"Instead of outright banning vaping, we believe the federal government should regulate it – ensuring that it is sold safely, kept out of the hands of children and taxed in Australia."

There was an outcry some years ago when the Labor Government moved to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. One of those who was strongly against the move was MP Tim Wilson, also a former IPA staffer.

But Labor attorney-general Nicola Roxon was made of stern stuff and all attempts by the tobacco lobby to prevent the change fell by the way. Roxon had personal motivation to drive the move: her father, Jack, died of a tobacco-related illness.

Whether Hunt has any personal reason driving him is unknown. But he has made the right move and every right-thinking person who is concerned about the health of future generations should back him to the hilt.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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