Finding a way through smoke and vapours

It is clear Bendigo has a health problem when it comes to smoking, with significantly higher rates of smokers than the national average and all the attendant health problems.  

The indicators are this is also a vice that afflicts lower socio-economic groups more harshly and is more prevalent amongst older people.

In short, those who have smoked for a long time probably picked up the habit when it was more normalised and are now finding it increasingly difficult to quit. 

The issue of whether e-cigarettes can play a role helping people to quit has again been raised by advocates as an option.

So far, only products that have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration can be marketed as quitting aids and no electronic cigarette has received approval. In Victoria, it is not illegal to sell non-nicotine electronic cigarettes, but laws passed last year that will come into effect on August 1 ban the sale of all electronic cigarettes to people under the age of 18, with similar restrictions on use and advertising as for tobacco products.

This week Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation president Dr Alex Wodak made the claim nicotine vaping products are less harmful than combustible tobacco and as many smokers would never be able to give up, an option is a good public health solution. He used the emotional comparison to a parliamentary committee in Queensland of methadone treatment for heroin addiction; "Most parents would rather have their son or daughter alive and on methadone than dead and not on methadone."

This, of course, is focused chiefly on the argument that vaping is a therapeutic aid and not another marketing ploy by big tobacco eyeing off young, untapped markets where tobacco restrictions have made successful inroads. 

The advertising certainly seems to be targeting a more sophisticated, younger market with its flavours and products and not those simply desperate to give up.

Equally, such a solution is going to be of little attraction to the lower socio-economic smoking group, arguably those most in need of help, when the prices of these products are a strong deterrent to their uptake.

Perhaps most concerning to the bulk of public health advocates is the unmeasured harm of vaping, particularly if it contains nicotine, whether people do stop smoking at all and the precedent behaviour it sets for another generation.

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