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Has Nicotine Been Unjustly Criminalized?

The classification of nicotine as a poison in Australia is an historical anomaly according to Dr Colin Mendelsohn, a healthcare professional with many years of experience who also happens to be a leading Tobacco Treatment expert. In an opinion piece published in the Sydney Herald earlier this month, Dr Mendelsohn stated his belief that e-cigarettes provide smokers with a less dangerous method of ingesting nicotine: one that does not involve inhaling the thousands of harmful chemicals contained in tobacco smoke. His is not the only voice to be heard demanding the government rethinks its position on electronic cigarettes either. The New Nicotine Alliance, a not-for-profit organisation formed to battle for the rights of ex-smokers in the country who have turned to vaping in their efforts to quit tobacco products, is also lobbying the government to remove liquids that contain less than 3.6% nicotine by volume from the Poisons Standard.

Should E Liquids Containing Nicotine Really Be Illegal?

In light of the fact that it is perfectly legal to smoke tobacco in Australia, which of course contains nicotine, it makes no sense to criminalise less harmful alternatives as far as many experts are concerned. In addition to nicotine, tobacco contains several thousand potentially harmful chemicals, many of which are known carcinogens. Smokers who are keen to rid their bodies of these dangerous chemicals certainly don’t see why vaping should be criminalised by the government.

One of the reasons for nicotine’s current legal status, according to Dr Mendelsohn, is the fact that the health risks associated with it have been vastly overestimated over the years. According to a report published earlier this year by the Royal College of Physicians in the UK, which was endorsed by Public Health England, the long-term health risks arising from vaping are likely to be less than 5% of those associated with the smoking of tobacco. E liquids are not of course illegal in the United Kingdom but the status of vaping products in other countries is less clear. In New Zealand, for example, it is not against the law to import such products for personal use but it is illegal to sell or supply them to others in the country. However, the Associate Health Minister, Peseta Sam Lotu-liga, proposed changing the legal status of electronic cigarettes in that country earlier this month so the NZ government’s stance on nicotine could be set to change in the near future.

Time for Action in Australia

Taking into account the studies published in the UK, together with the legal status of vaping products in both that country and New Zealand, it seems strange that a forward-thinking nation such as Australia should continue to criminalise those who sincerely wish to quit smoking tobacco and who would like to use e-cigarettes to help them to do so. The Australian government has signalled its intent to eradicate the habit of smoking tobacco, through substantial increases in the excise levied on it; by re-evaluating the legal status of e-cigarette products, it could take a step closer to realising this goal.

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