Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen calls for legalisation of nicotine vaping in NSW

BIG DEBATE: The use of e-cigarettes is being heavily debated again following Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen's push for nicotine vapes to be legalised in NSW. STOCK PHOTO
BIG DEBATE: The use of e-cigarettes is being heavily debated again following Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen's push for nicotine vapes to be legalised in NSW. STOCK PHOTO

OVER the past few years, the use of vapes and e-cigarettes has become increasingly popular, so much so it has now developed its own set of rules and regulations - to an extent.

Vaping is legal in NSW, but only if it is free of nicotine. It is legal to import e-cigarette nicotine liquid from overseas though.

However, Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen is pushing for nicotine vapes to be legalised, citing his own use of them to quit smoking as a reason to change the legislation.

In Mr Johnsen's opinion they should be made available, but regulated by the state and is even calling for the creation of a domestic vaping industry.

As part of his campaign, he also wants to amend the NSW Poisons and Therapeutic Goods (Poisons List) Proclamation 2016 to exclude nicotine from the Poisons List when used in the preparation of vaping and e-cigarette products; direct any government revenue generated by the legalisation of vaping to a new regional health fund; and recognise the overwhelming evidence that vaping is a proven method for smoking cessation, and is a far safer alternative to smoking cigarettes (sic).

His support of less governance has also played a role in his push.

"As someone who believes in less government, not more, I do not believe we should be telling people what to do and how to do it," he said.

"If people wish to vape instead of smoke, we should be allowing them to make that free choice."

The medical opinion on the matter is not clear cut though, with some doctors standing against the use of vaping in any form, let alone with nicotine e-cigarette liquid.

Hunter Medical Practice's Noman Jawaad believes more research needs to be conducted before vaping can be trusted.

"There is no clear legislation and information about the different types of vapes that are available in the market," he stated.

"[They don't measure] what they contain and how much they contain as accurately as we do with cigarettes."

The presence of other impurities that are inhaled while smoking a cigarette, including carbon monoxide, are also present in vapes which is something that concerns Dr Jawaad.

One of the most argued points when it comes to the topic is the habit of smoking, and whether that is healthy or not even if there is no tobacco.

People such as Mr Johnsen would say it makes it easier to quit regular cigarettes if you can still perform the action, which studies reveal is true. But there are those who believe it's better to find a treatment that would stop that behaviour completely, and slowly train people out of the habit or a nicotine addiction.

Dr Jawaad said nicotine patches, tablets, counselling or even hypnosis are very successful.

"When comparing vaping to smoking, it's not a good alternative and I don't think it's a very successful way of quitting smoking when we have a series of other ways we can help," he said.

He acknowledged that as adults people are free to make their own decisions, but strongly advises anyone quitting smoking to speak to their GP and get their help with the issue, even if they decide vaping is the way to go.

There has been relatively strong support for Mr Johnsen's campaign on social media however, and he has started a web petition.

The MP believes the NSW has a chance to lead the way on the topic in Australia.

"By legalising vaping in NSW, we would become the first state in Australia to support the community to become smoke free, leading to a far healthier society through health benefits." he said.

He will be hoping to gain significant support within the next six months, before federal health minister Greg Hunt again attempts to ban the import of nicotine e-cigarette liquid. Mr Hunt was recently forced to delay the ban following backlash from coalition MPs.

Federal Hunter MP, Joel Fitzgibbon, also weighed in on the issue, acknowledging the strengths of both sides of the discussion.

"I have to say I'm not a fan of what we call the "nanny state", and that is the government reaching into every aspect of our lives and undermining our capacity to make choices for ourselves," he said.

"But I think in all of these things it's best to follow expert medical advice and I understand that the experts are still concerned about the impact on people's health."

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