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E-cigs could be subject to tobacco-like controls

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Electronic cigarettes could become the subject to the same strict controls as tobacco products under options being investigated by the nation’s State and Federal governments.

As concern mounts about the rapid take up of e-cigarettes, particularly among adolescents and young adults, the Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs (ICD) – which advises the nation’s health ministers – has hired consultants to develop a discussion paper looking at the benefits and risks of e-cigarettes, including their health effects, marketing and use.

“Health authorities are concerned about the use of electronic cigarettes in Australia because of a lack of evidence on their safety and efficacy,” a Federal Health Department spokeswoman told The Australian. “The impact of widescale use of these devices on tobacco use generally is not known, and the outcome in the community could be harmful.”

As reported in the 9 December edition of Australian Medicine (click here ausmed/e-cigs-light-among-young), e-cigarette use is growing rapidly, particularly among the young.

A major household survey last year found that about a quarter of 18 to 24-year-old smokers had used e-cigarettes, and one in seven smokers aged 14 years or older.

E-cigarettes operate by heating a vial of fluid, sometimes impregnated with nicotine, to emit a vapour which is then inhaled, and have been promoted as an aid in quitting smoking.

Their adoption has been slower in Australia than in the United States and Britain, partly because any substances containing nicotine are tightly regulated here. But e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine were until recently not subject to any controls.

That changed last month when Queensland became the first jurisdiction in Australia to subject the devices to the same restrictions as tobacco products, making it illegal to sell them to minors or use them in non-smoking areas.

The decision of the ICD to commission a report on e-cigarettes is seen as a precursor to the development of uniform nationwide regulations on their marketing and use.

Public health experts worldwide have voiced alarm about the rapid penetration of e-cigarettes in major markets like the United States and Britain, given a paucity of evidence about their long-term health effects and doubts about their efficacy as an aid in giving up smoking.

They have demanded that governments crack down on the promotion of e-cigarettes, including by preventing manufacturers and distributors from making unsubstantiated claims about their use as a nicotine replacement therapy, and targeting the devices at younger uses by offering chocolate, lolly and alcohol flavours.

The consultants hired by the ICD are due to release a discussion paper on e-cigarettes in the first half of next year, with the nation’s health ministers expected to begin examining regulatory options by the end of 2015.

Adrian Rollins