The Australian Medical Association (AMA) is adopting plenty of options for drug users, but are leaving cigarette smokers out to dry in the fight for harm reduction in Australia.
We MUST be critical of the stance Australia has taken against vaporizers, which are clearly the best option to combat severe smoking inclines.
Smoking rates in Australia increased for the first time in the last 5 years despite tax increases and the most expensive cigarette prices in the world.
This begs the question, why on earth is harm reduction in Australia not being prioritized for cigarette smokers?
Questions Being Asked of the AMA
Renowned public health experts are praising the Australian Medical Association (AMA) for adopting “harm-minimisation strategies and a compassionate attitude to drug users”, yet a few have questioned why similar positions aren’t also taken towards smokers.
Professor Colin Mendelsohn is the conjoint Associate Professor for the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Beyond that, he is a long-standing member of the AMA and a tobacco treatment specialist. Mendelsohn points a questioning finger at harm reduction in Australia, specifically with the approaches being adopted towards substance abuse.
Mendelsohn seems to share our sentiment: Why are the same tactics not being applied to tobacco, the most commonly used addictive substance of all?
The AMA notes “substance dependence is a chronic brain disease” involving compulsive or uncontrolled use. For those unable to quit, minimisation of harm could play a significant part in the reduction of mortality and morbidity through drug use.
“Punishing substance users who have lost control of their drug use and are causing no harm to others makes no sense. These patients need help and support.” he said.
“Harm-minimisation strategies are an accepted component of drug treatment and are widely used in the drug and alcohol field. Examples include the use of methadone for heroin users and needle and syringe exchange programs. Different rules for tobacco,” added the conjoint Associate Professor for the School of Public Health and Community Medicine.
The professor continued by pointing out that when it comes to smoking, the AMA has a “quit or die” attitude. The use of vaporizers as safer alternatives is still frowned upon in Australia.
Vaporizers, The Ideal Alternative?
Agreed upon through many studies, Mendelsohn pointed out that vaporizers “are close to an ideal tobacco harm-reduction device” since they deliver nicotine via the same hand-to-mouth motion that smokers are used to. This is a main factor in why they tend to be more effective than other delivery systems, not to mention the elimination of many known risks, tar and carcinogens.
The professor added that the devices were found to be at least 95% safer than their combustible counterparts. Going on to quote Public Health England who has stated, “in the interests of public health it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes … as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking”.
The professor added that the PHE has concluded that taking a harm reduction approach towards smoking goes a long way in preventing “death and disability from tobacco use, and to hasten our progress to a tobacco-free society”.
AMA Should Lead Charge For Smokers on Harm Reduction In Australia
Mendelsohn said that the AMA’s position statement regarding substance abuse “supports the introduction of innovative policy models… that might reduce harms and improve outcomes for users and society” and ‘novel treatments”, needs to include e-cigarettes.
He added, “The AMA supports decriminalisation of drug possession for personal-use offences. However, its policy does not extend to decriminalising the use of nicotine when used for vaping for tobacco harm reduction. By opposing the use of nicotine in e-cigarettes, the AMA effectively supports the current laws which criminalise a smoker who is trying to switch to a safer alternative.”
The public health expert concluded by stating that tobacco harm reduction in Australia is one of the three pillars of Australia’s Tobacco Strategy.
What does that even mean? The actions of the AMA don’t indicate any validity in the statement.
Why is the AMA disregarding tobacco smokers?
Classified as a medical organization, the AMA should be leading the charge on harm reduction for tobacco.
Mendelsohn concluded that, “A compassionate approach supporting addicted smokers with harm-reduction treatments such as e-cigarettes, as the AMA recommends for other substance users, could be a first step towards saving the lives of thousands of Australian smokers.”
Is AMA’s approach towards tobacco addiction valid? Should Australia be reacting differently for smokers? Why do you think the AMA and Australia are ignoring the science on vaporizers?
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