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Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Page: 3086


Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (13:19): by leave—I stand here in the very unusual circumstances of being the deputy chair and member of the opposition presenting the majority report of the electronic cigarettes and personal vaporisers in Australia inquiry in use and marketing.

As deputy chair of the committee I would have preferred, and my preference would have been, to have nicotine e-cigarettes evaluated by independent health experts and not politicians. I don't think we're in a position to make scientific judgements on what is harmful and what isn't. We know conclusive evidence, for many years, has shown us that nicotine and tobacco cause cancer and many other illnesses.

I respect the views of the chair of the committee and I congratulate him on chairing the inquiry, always giving everyone the opportunity to talk and ensuring that all views were heard. Having said that, once the committee made that decision and was commissioned by the government to investigate e-cigarettes, it was useful to hear from people around the country and overseas about the negative impacts of smoking and e-cigarettes and their usage here in Australia and in other parts of the world. This includes, as you heard from the member for North Sydney, New Zealand and the UK, where we heard evidence from their health departments, from people involved in this particular industry and from people who had done research in this area.

The terms of reference into this particular report were the use and marketing of e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers and how they may assist people quit smoking, and the health impacts of the use of e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers. This is the area where the majority members of the committee felt that the evidence of health impacts of the use of e-cigarettes and that they cause no harm was not actually there. We accept the fact that they may cause less harm. But that is not a reason to go all-out and ensure that they are sold and marketed, because the evidence is still out. We don't know what the long-term effects are. One of the recommendations in the report says that more research needs to be done and that the research needs to be looked at, perhaps, by members of this committee or other committees every so often to see where it's up to.

One of the other terms of reference was the international approach to legislating and regulating the use of e-cigarettes. We looked at the different jurisdictions around the world, including the UK and New Zealand, and the appropriate regulatory framework for e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers in Australia. In New Zealand we met with the Minister for Health, the select parliamentary New Zealand health committee, the acting high commissioner in New Zealand, the New Zealand Ministry of Health, the technical experts advisory group on electronic cigarettes, and the New Zealand cancer society.

As a reformed smoker myself, I'm extremely wary of experts placed in front of the committee that are sponsored by big tobacco, or of people who, perhaps, receive some form of payment for work done by big tobacco. So I was very dubious of some of the so-called experts that were giving evidence to our committee. My office also received some odd calls during the report process from so-called concerned smokers who certainly had very well-crafted talking points which seemed to be very similar and very well-rehearsed.

The committee does normally work in a coordinated manner, and it did. But this is, I suppose, the first time in my memory—or in my experience here in this House—where the chair has a dissenting report and the deputy chair is presenting the majority report. What I'd really like to note is that one of the things that we on the committee were fairly united on was the TGA—that if, in the future, there is evidence that shows there is no health impact on people, it should go through the TGA. We know that there has already been an application and one that's already been rejected by the TGA, which was an application to allow nicotine use in e-cigarettes. That was in March 2017, I think. There are paragraphs in the report that refer to this. Committee members also noted that the National Health and Medical Research Council concluded in April 2017:

… policy makers should act to minimise the harm of nicotine e-cigarettes until 'evidence of safety, quality and efficacy can be produced'.

That submission to the committee was very hard evidence saying that unless we have more evidence, unless there is more research, we should refrain from changing anything.

This report also gave big tobacco what I think was an absolutely appalling opportunity to influence tobacco policy in Australia. We in this country have prided ourselves on being constantly at the forefront of doing all that we can as governments and agencies to ensure that people have the right information and the tools and assistance to give up tobacco. That is happening at a very fast pace, as we heard the member for North Sydney say earlier. The fact that big tobacco companies were not able to influence, because the committee took very seriously the evidence that we received, but were able to have a voice—to have a platform—is something that we should be wary of. We should ensure that we don't allow them to have a voice, because we've seen the way that they have acted in the past. We've seen the way that they have treated the Australian public for many, many years.

I think the committee said that it wanted to follow the advice of independent experts on nicotine and e-cigarettes. We saw that hard-core smokers in some places could come off nicotine tobacco products and go on to vaping and e-cigarettes. Even though it was less harmful, we still don't have the evidence to show that there is no health impact from e-cigarettes. Until we get that evidence, until science and experts can say that there is no impact on health, we should be very cautious in this area.

I would like to thank the secretariat and my fellow colleagues—the chair, the member for North Sydney—but especially Stephanie Mikac, the secretary; Caitlin Cahill; Timothy Brennan, who accompanied us to New Zealand; Carissa Skinner; and all the other staff members, because I think they do a great, great job in supporting committees. We have seen it firsthand. Mr Deputy Speaker Irons, you were the deputy chair of the Health and Ageing Committee when I was the chair a few years back, and you have seen firsthand the great work that they do. I make the point that without those people supporting and assisting us we wouldn't be able to do these things.