Tobacco giant British American has been lobbying the Therapeutic Goods Administration to introduce an electronic cigarette into Australia, describing it as a "medicine".
Toronto, ON -- (SBWIRE) -- 10/27/2014 -- The information emerged in documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws by the ABC.
Health advocates are worried that allowing big tobacco companies into the e-cigarette market could unleash a wave of seductive advertising that would lure young people into taking up the habit.
Electronic cigarettes are a multi-billion-dollar business overseas, but in Australia they remain largely unregulated and legally contentious.
Long-time tobacco opponent Professor Simon Chapman, from Sydney University, said describing e-cigarettes as medicine was "Orwellian" and destructive to society.
"That's the only word I can think [of] that's apposite here," he said.
"Down the corridor in BAT [British American Tobacco] you have a division who are spending all their days trying to work out how to gut, thwart, and ruin any policy like plain packaging."
BAT offshoot Nicoventures first sought a meeting with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in November 2013 "to fully explain our medicines-based approach to these agencies".
The name of the Nicoventures representative was suppressed by the TGA, which also edited large parts of the company’s pitch.
When a meeting was confirmed for December 20, 2013, Nicoventures (wholly owned by BAT) wrote again, claiming it was motivated by wanting to help make smokers healthier.
"Thanks again for making time to see us, this is an area of much focus globally and we are committed to bringing these products to market and so reducing the harm caused by smoking in the population," the letter said.
But Professor Chapman said the letter was deceptive.
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"This is duplicity," he said.
"It's hypocrisy, forked tongue talk, it's everything that we've come to expect from the tobacco industry over the last 40 or 50 years."
For decades big tobacco companies denied smoking killed people or was even addictive. But in a brief it prepared for the TGA, Nicoventures spelt out the dangers of its parent company’s products.
"Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable illness and early death in England and most of the Western world," it said.
"If smoking cessation products can achieve a greater acceptance among smokers by offering craving relief, coupled with rapid absorption and mimicking many aspects of a cigarette ... they will enable a greater proportion of the smoking population to begin their journey towards quitting or substitution of cigarettes with medicinal nicotine products."
Royal Australasian College of Physicians president Professor Nicholas Talley has reviewed the evidence on electronic cigarettes.
"There is no evidence, no convincing evidence that using e-cigarettes leads to people quitting, there's not even convincing evidence it leads to people smoking less, although that might be possible," he said.
But other health academics have disagreed and have written to the World Health Organisation describing e-cigarettes as potentially life-saving.
Professor Talley said if e-cigarettes were not properly regulated they would lead to young people taking up the habit.
"It'll seem to be cool," he said.
"I'm sure this will happen and that is not a good thing, it's quite likely, in my view, many of these young people will then transition to cigarettes themselves."
The e-cigarettes pitch
The documents released by the Therapeutic Goods Administration showed Nicoventures would like to be able to advertise e-cigarettes, and be able to sell them anywhere.
An internal TGA email summarised Nicoventures' pitch.
"Light touch regulation is a key; Require commercial freedoms (able to advertise and have general sale)," the email said.
Nicoventures declined to be interviewed but released a statement.
"Nicoventures has met with the Therapeutic Goods Administration about the possible introduction of a new smoking cessation device in Australia," the statement said.
"It is anticipated that Nicoventures will be making a formal application to the TGA in the near future.
"We expect to be able to provide more details to the public once the application is lodged.
"E-cigarettes and similar devices should be manufactured to the highest quality standards and marketed responsibly to ensure only the safest possible products are sold in Australia.
"This is currently not the situation."
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