E-cigarettes: An inconvenient opportunity

21 per cent of people are unaware that e-cigarettes are not legally available in Australia.

The need to legalise e-cigarettes and unlock a range of health, community and economic benefits can wait no longer and politicians have never had greater reason to act: new research from the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) shows that more than half of Australians believe the issue could influence their vote.

AACS has been outspoken about the need to develop a framework to govern the legal sale of e-cigarettes to provide more – not less – alternatives for smokers looking to kick the habit. And based on the evidence, Australia agrees.

The AACS research – the most extensive and wide-ranging ever undertaken on the topic of e-cigarettes in Australia – shows that 54 per cent of Australians view the legalisation of e-cigarettes as a potential vote-influencing or even vote-changing issue.

Around the world, e-cigarettes – hand held electronic devices that vaporise a liquid which is then inhaled – are widely available and used by consumers. In major markets including the US and UK they have proven highly effective as a means for consumers to quit smoking tobacco.

However, the legal status of e-cigarettes is unclear in Australia. In some states and territories they are legally able to be sold, usually through licenced tobacconists, in others they are not. E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and they cannot legally contain nicotine.

Study findings

According to the research, 73 per cent of Australians would support the legalisation of e-cigarettes to help smokers quit. Given that the Therapeutic Goods Administration is currently reviewing the legality of nicotine for e-cigarettes, the release of this research is especially timely.

A total of 4000 Australians aged 18 years and over were surveyed by independent research company The Sexton Marketing Group, commissioned by AACS, with a mix of non-smokers, current and ex-smokers involved, including people from smoking and non-smoking households. A broad cross section from around the country, but they all had one thing in common: they all vote.

“Nothing piques a politician’s interest more than votes. This research covers a sample size around three times as large as typical news poll and everyone involved is on the electoral roll,” AACS CEO, Jeff Rogut, said.

“Given the results clearly demonstrate overwhelming community support for the legalisation of e-cigarettes, with very little opposition, there’s nothing preventing this issue being moved to the top of the policy agenda.

“In fact, the results are so strongly in favour of legalising e-cigarettes that Federal and State Governments and oppositions could reach a bipartisan agreement immediately, safe in the knowledge that the vast majority of voters would welcome the move.

“Doing so would garner significant support from the electorate. Not doing so could be politically damaging for politicians and parties that continue to sit on their hands,” he said.

The reasons for the strength of support to legalise e-cigarettes are numerous. Based on the research, among the most compelling are:

  • To help smokers cut down or quit smoking altogether
  • So family members of smokers including children don’t have to live in a smoke-filled environment
  • To reduce the burden on the health system, freeing up hospital beds and money for other patients awaiting treatment.

International views on e-cigarettes

The development of a framework to govern the legal sale of e-cigarettes is necessary to bring Australia in line with the rest of the world.

The UK provides a compelling example. Earlier this year, Public Health England and numerous other UK public health organisations released a joint statement on developing a public health consensus on e-cigarettes, products they state “are the most popular quitting tool in the country with more than 10 times as many people using them than using local stop smoking services”.

The New Zealand Government has also indicated it will regulate for e-cigarettes. A Public Health England study from 2015 shows that e-cigarettes – which do not contain tobacco – are around 95 per cent safer than conventional cigarettes.

“There is a groundswell of health professionals and experts from around the world who recognise that e-cigarettes are among the most widely used and effective products to help people quit smoking,” Mr Rogut said.

“If e-cigarettes have the potential to assist even a proportion of smokers to reduce or quit smoking tobacco, then we need to give these products a chance to help Australians.

“We risk being left behind in an international sense if don’t make these products available to people who could benefit from their use,” Mr Rogut said.

Obviously at the centre of a move to legalise e-cigarettes is the need to ensure they are sold responsibly. There is a small but growing black market for illicit e-cigarette products, emphasising the urgent need to develop a proper legal framework.

“Convenience stores are proven responsible retailers of restricted products like lottery tickets and conventional tobacco. With grounding in proper training and compliance, our operators are ideally placed to responsibly sell e-cigarettes and provide adult consumers a healthier, safer choice,” Mr Rogut said.

“The AACS believes more, not less, alternatives are required to encourage people to quit smoking. For this reason, in addition to e-cigarettes, we also believe other safe stop-smoking products such as nicotine gums and patches should be more readily available as well,” Mr Rogut said.

The AACS has identified several key considerations in the legalisation of e-cigarettes, including restrictions in sales to minors, ensuring e-cigarettes and associated products are child tamper proof, contain an ingredients list, comply with quality standards and are manufactured and sold with strict safety standards in place.

  • 73% of Australians would support the legalisations of e-cigarettes to help smokers quit.
  • E-cigarettes are around 95% safer than smoked tobacco.
  • 21% of people are unaware that e-cigarettes are not legally available in Australia.
  • 44% of smokers have tried e-cigarettes.
  • 68% of smokers say they would try an e-cigarette if they were readily available and cheaper than normal tobacco; just 6% of non-smokers say they might.
  • 54% of people view the legalisation of e-cigarettes as a potential vote-influencing or even vote-changing issue.


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