This week a second Australian death (a 52 year old woman from NSW) was reported following COVID-19 vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine. This follows a 48 year old woman also from NSW who died in April. The probable cause of death was thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), likely linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine. There have been 48 confirmed and probable TTS cases in Australia.
As of June 10, there have been 5,487,670 Australians who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 142,808 in last 24 hours. Some 3.6 million of these have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
This means that the current incidence rate in Australia of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome following AstraZeneva vaccination is about 1 in 75,000 and the mortality rate is a vanishingly low 1 in 1,800,000.
People are choosing to be vaccinated in a risk calculation to help avoid serious illness and possible death from COVID-19. In Australia, the current COVID-19 rate is 1,173 per million population and the death rate is 35 per million, both among the lowest in the world.
An interesting comparison with these mortality rates can be made with deaths in those undergoing anaesthesia for operations in hospital. We consent to undergoing anaesthesia because we have serious medical problems needing surgery or to have investigations like endoscopy and colonoscopy looking for early signs of serious disease.
Anaesthetic risk is thoroughly monitored and researched. In Australia and New Zealand the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) publicly reports on mortality associated with anaesthesia. The most recent Safety of Anaesthesia report was published this year and reports data for the years 2015-2017.
Across the three years, the rate of anaesthesia-related deaths per number of procedures per annum was 1 in every 57,125 anaesthetic events. In 85% of these deaths, chronic health conditions contributed to anaesthesia-related mortality. A total of 2,909 people died while under anaesthesia across the three years, of which 239 were considered by ANZCA to be wholly or in part due to anaesthesia.
I know several highly educated people in my age group (I’m 69) who are hesitating about getting the AstraZenica vaccine. Yet I know some of them have not hesitated to have surgery when they needed it. And I know none of them would even for a nanosecond contemplate having surgery without anaesthesia to avoid the very, very small risk of being killed by the anaesthetic.
If we are to get COVID-19 vaccination rates up to the 85%+ rates necessary to confer herd immunity, investment in research that helps us better understand the psychodynamics of the varied ways that people navigate risk taking with COVID will be money very well spent.
In 1999, a close friend was turning 50. We celebrated by our two families renting a house near Nimbin rocks. I bought him a very old bottle of red wine from a Sydney inner west wine shop which had an extensive selection of vintage Australian wines. I vaguely recall it might have been from the late 1960s and I forked out about $150 for it.
We drove into a Lismore Thai restaurant that had been recommended and I discretely asked the waiter to pull the cork and bring it to the table. He called me over and said the cork had crumbled into the bottle. A tea strainer was used to pour the corkless precious wine into our glasses.
It tasted like vinegar and was completely undrinkable. Corked.
I put a spare cork in the bottle and took it back to Sydney. I explained the situation to the guy at the bottle shop and asked for a replacement to the same value. With a sympathetic look he said “oh, that’s too bad. But I’m afraid it happens. It’s a chance that you take when you buy an old wine.”
That was it apparently. But it flew in the face of everything I thought I knew about basic consumer law. So I said “But the wine was not fit for purpose. I’m not saying it was a wine I just didn’t like, I’m saying it is a bottle that is totally undrinkable. Look – all the wine is still in the bottle, get a glass and see for yourself.”
He shot back, “Look I know what you’re saying, and that’s normally right with consumer goods. But it’s just not the case with wine. You take a punt when you decide to buy a very old wine, and sometimes it doesn’t work out.”
As it happened I had been on the board of the Australian Consumers Association, publishers of Choice magazine, for about 20 years. Till that day, I had never played that card in any interaction with a retailer, but that day I decided I would. “I don’t like to bring this up, but I’m a long time board member of Choice magazine, and I do know a little about consumer law, as you’d imagine. So I really want to insist that you offer me a replacement. This is just a black and white case of me being sold something that was completely defective.”
That would end it, I thought. But I was wrong. He said “You are right in principle, but in this case you are actually wrong. Think about this: I work in the wine industry. I have an extensive selection of very old wines here. Do you really think this means that I wouldn’t know what I’m talking about when this happens? The law is very clear here. It does not apply to old wines.”
I saw my argument collapsing. Maybe he was right. Damn! So I flirted with a response which would see me reach for my bottle on the counter, fumble it, and see it shatter glass and wine all over the tiled floor. But instead I tried this.
“Mate, I live a few streets away and intend to stay in the suburb for many years. I buy wine often. If you don’t replace this bottle, this will be the last time I’ll ever come here. I’ll also tell everyone I know about how you treat your customers. You might like to think about how my story will spread.”
That did it. He paused about two seconds and told me to go and find another bottle.
I’ve told this story many times to friends, and told it again this week to Keren Lavelle, who ran the book program at Choice for 11 years. Within minutes she emailed me this link, saying simply “You were right”. Please read it, it sets out in detail your legal rights and what action you can take if it happens to you.
In a fawning Facebook interview with fellow vape advocate Fiona Patten MP, Wodak raised his already high ranking for saying very silly things (see here, here, and here) when he explained his take on why there are people who continue to flash bright amber lights about vaping. He calls them “prohibitionists”. Patten explains to viewers that her interview is taking place the day after “Tobacco .. err ..International Tobacco Free Day or as many of us were naming it International Vaping Day.”
At 22 minutes into Wodak’s considered thoughts about how the vape crusade is traveling in Australia, their exchange goes like this:
Fiona Patten: It seems to me that some of the people who you would have thought would be on the harm reduction side are actually on the prohibition side. And I put people like Simon Chapman in there and Rob Moodie in there, in that in the past you would have imagined them to be on the side of harm reduction and not in the Salvation … the Major Watters ‘just say no’ camp.
Alex Wodak: … One reason is that while these people have been warriors for trying to reduce smoking and who attacked the tobacco industry absolutely rightly when it was impregnable fortress, and who got punished by Big Tobacco for the temerity of trying to challenge them, they all suffered at the hands of Big Tobacco. Big Tobacco’s very nasty and they all got hurt and damaged in the process. So it’s not a surprise to me that they now take the attitude that this is just another twist or turn and this is Big Tobacco playing dirty tricks again and conning people like you and me who haven’t been involved in the debate. (italic emphases are mine)
So according to our new oracle of tobacco control, apparently everything about my assessment of the claims made for vapourised tobacco can be explained by having been punished, suffered, hurt and damaged by Big Tobacco. How obvious then, that I don’t trust them.
But his rant is just spray-your-coffee stuff. I’ve thought hard but cannot recall ever having been “punished, suffered and damaged” by Big Tobacco. I have never had any aspect of my career damaged by them. In fact, nothing could be so totally 180 degrees wrong. And I’ve never in any way suffered personally. Instead, across the 40+ years I’ve worked in tobacco control, it was the tobacco industry which was constantly damaged and punished. Nearly everything … everything … that I and my many colleagues fought for was won: major campaign funding, total advertising and promotion bans, ever-increasing unforgettable graphic pack warnings, total indoor area smoke free laws, seriously sales-withering tobacco tax rises, plain packaging, retail display bans, a duty-free limit of just one unopened pack, a ban on personal importation of cigarettes and a near total denormalization of smoking from an elegant accoutrement of style to a wretched, near universally regretted addiction that kills two in three long term users. If you have a few months to spare, go to this massive website and read about it all.
By contrast, across this time the tobacco industry been a decades-long serial winner of the least trusted industry wooden spoon, its leadership is like a proverbial revolving door, and it publicly admits it understandably finds it hard to attract quality staff. Most politicians today would rather accept a photo opportunity with the grim reaper than be snapped in a Big Tobacco corporate box at a sporting event. Unlike in the 1950s when some of its senior figures were knighted, today their appearance in a civil honours list would be like a rabid dog winning Crufts dog show, while tobacco control leaders regularly are gonged in recognition of their huge achievements in seeing smoking fall to its lowest level since data began be collected (me, Mike Daube AO, Kingsley Faulkner AM, Nigel Gray AO, David Hill AO, Anne Jones OAM, Bronwyn King AO, Alan Lopez AC, Rob Moodie AM, Michael Moore AM, Bill Musk AM, Andrew Penman AM, Matthew Peters AM, Lyn Roberts AO, Maurice Swanson OAM, Melanie Wakefield AO).
A more punished, suffering, damaged and hurt list you are unlikely to find anywhere. But Wodak apparently knows otherwise.
Elsewhere in the interview Wodak says that people like me are on first name terms with health ministers. I’ll be sure to remember that the first time I ever get to talk with Greg Hunt (Commonwealth), Brad Hazzard (NSW) or any of the other state and territory ministers whose names I’d have to look up before talking with them too.
He also repeats one of his favourite claims that smoking prevalence has been becalmed in Australia for years. (Actually daily smoking has fallen from 12.8% in 2016 to 11% in 2019 — a 14% fall.) Wodak then says that in the last 3 years the number of people in Australia who have vaped has gone from 240,000 to 520,000, a 78% rise in the same period (see here for a close look at what those numbers actually mean).
But there’s also a teensy little problemette here which I expect most people could see immediately but which may have escaped him. With such a massive upswing in vaping why didn’t we see a correspondingly huge downswing in smoking across the same period if vaping is such an incredibly effective way of quitting smoking?
Here’s a graph of what’s happened to smoking in Australia since 1980. See if you can spot the point where all this vaping onslaught made its huge impact.
Perhaps it’s because vaping might hold more people in smoking than it tips out of it? A recently published paper from the ITC-4CV four country (Australia, USA, UK, Canada) cohort survey found that after 18 months:
“smokers with established concurrent use [smoking and vaping] were not more likely to discontinue smoking compared to those not vaping … it is clear that the rates of transitioning away from smoking remain unacceptably low, and perhaps current vaping tools at best bring the likelihood of quitting up to comparable levels of less dependent smokers. The findings of our international study are consistent with the findings of the US PATH transition studies, and other observational studies, in that most smokers remain in a persistent state of cigarette use across time, particularly the daily smokers.”
Patten and Wodak repeat the vaping theological tenet that people like me are vaping “prohibitionists”. Vaping theology is not very nuanced. You are either a harm reductionist or a prohibitionist. There is nothing in between. As they know, I have always supported regulation of alternative nicotine delivery systems in parliamentary submissions and blogs here, here and here. So calling me and all the many other health agencies in Australia who support the government’s prescription for vapouriser nicotine proposal “prohibitionists” is like calling the 300+ million prescriptions issued in Australia each year a prohibition on prescribed drugs. You know it makes sense. In the interview, Wodak calls all this forthcoming prescription access activity “rigmarole” but is on record as writing, “Vaping is to smoking what methadone is to street heroin.” Methadone is available only via prescription. Perhaps he thinks methadone should also be stocked in every corner store right alongside the kid-friendly bubblegum-flavoured disposable vapes?
For me, Wodak’s most telling words are his admission that “I’ve been involved in this area for five years”. Wodak has been a highly respected drug policy expert, but as my late father might have said, when it comes to tobacco control policy, he’s very much come down in the last shower.
Other blogs in this series:
Vaping advocates say the darndest things 1: The Cancer Council Australia takes huge donations from cigarette retailers. WordPress 30 Jul, 2020
Vaping advocates say the darndest things 2: Tobacco control advocates help Big Tobacco. WordPress 12 Aug, 2020
Geriatrician Kate Gregorevic has tweeted a very useful thread of 8 common fears and excuses she has heard from those who are vaccine hesitant, together with her responses. These are so useful. Please copy to those in your life who may benefit from reading these.
By now most of us will have seen risk comparisons like the one below coursing through social media. The message is that, yes, there are risks of clotting from the AstraZeneca vaccine, but they are almost homeopathically small when compared with other blood clotting risks from things that millions do every day (take oral contraceptives, smoke) and especially if any of us were to acquire COVID19.
The idea is that rational people will compare these risks and suddenly any vaccination hesitancy will evaporate when it dawns on the anxious that they are being ridiculously risk averse.
If only it were so simple. The trouble is, that risk perception and communication researchers have long known that such comparisons do little to assuage anxious people’s concerns. Instead, people unconsciously reach for a variety of heuristics or mental shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making decisions about issues where we often lack any scientific detailed and relevant knowledge. We all use these rules of thumb to interpret and make sense of risks in everyday life.
The traditional approach to assessing environmental risks has been to characterise the hazard, quantify the frequency, duration and magnitude of exposure, and to evaluate the risks in a rigorous model with estimation expressed as a probability of an adverse health consequence. This is the classic scientific approach to assessing environmental risks, but it differs radically from the approach taken by ordinary people when reacting to or ignoring risky situations. The public does not generally assess risky situations using scientific methods, but reacts to specific perceptual components of hazards that are often poorly correlated with their consequences for health.
Rutgers University’s Peter Sandman has probably done more than anyone else to deconstruct how this applies to a large range of health scares. He argues that the idea of risk needs to be reconceptualised to take account of the relationship between the risky situation or agent (which he names the “hazard”) and the strength of people’s responses to these situations. These responses are mediated by the extent to which these agents or situations “outrage” communities. Risk is thus a product of the actual hazard plus a community’s outrage at their perception of that hazard. He argues:
Experts focus on hazard and ignore outrage. They therefore systematically overestimate the risk when the hazard is high, and underestimate it when the hazard is low. The public focuses on outrage and ignores hazard, and thus overestimates the risk when the outrage is high, and underestimates it when the outrage is low. Hazard and outrage are quite independent concepts, poorly correlated, which share a name: risk.
Building on the work of others including Paul Slovic, Sandman has delineated principal outrage components that influence whether or not a situation is perceived as acceptably safe or unacceptably risky. No problem will tick all of the boxes shown in the tables below, but all will tick some of them which will go a long way to helping understand the real causes of people being anxious and upset.
In 1997, with a colleague, the late Sonia Wutzke, I applied Sandman’s outrage matrix to claims which were being made at the time about the dire consequences ahead for us all that would occur with the rollout of mobile phone transmission towers. Despite the radio frequency radiation from the towers being barely detectable by nearby monitoring equipment, some people were having none of it. Here’s a TV newsreel from the time showing local anxiety in Harbord, on Sydney’s northern beaches, with the local MP Tony Abbott milking it hard. Our paper in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, had the two tables below where we applied the factors in Sandman’s model to the case of mobile phone transmission towers.
Sandman has recently featured in a podcast talking about how such an analysis can be applied to COVID vaccine hesitancy. It is well worth a listen and should be mandatory for those in the government’s communication divisions who are briefing spokespeople and advising on public messaging.
I got vaccinated a couple of days ago and I was very surprised that they didn’t give me a pin. They didn’t give me a button. They didn’t give me an armband. They gave me nothing that I could wear or put on a doorpost or something to signal that I got vaccinated and whey oy can, you should too. Because that’s the kind of bandwagon we should be encouraging. I would pay far more attention to the people who want to be vaccinated than to the people who don’t yet.
Looking over the tables above, several factors seem very obvious in the way they are influencing those hesitating to get vaccinated”. Here are just a few
COVID19 is still an unfamiliar disease, unlike the other more familiar vaccine preventable disease
Some may feel they are being almost socially coerced into being vaccinated, rather than doing it entirely voluntarily
The consequences (potentially fatal blood clots) are probably perceived as catastrophic, and not a mild adverse effect
With disrespect for politicians being rampant, they and those working for governments may be seen as untrustworthy. Big pharmaceutical companies, likewise.
Lots of media coverage about the adverse reactions
Like clotting with the AstraZeneca COVID19 vaccine, each of the above produce rare adverse reactions in a tiny number of people who receive these vaccines. This report on measles vaccination for example, shows 11 children had allergic reaction; 1 anaphylaxis; 1 encephalopathy; and 4 seizures. Yet 94.91% of children are fully immunized in Australia today and all of these diseases are as a result very uncommon.
Sandman’s website has rich pickings on risk perception, communication and how to reduce outrage in ways that may be highly relevant accelerating vaccine uptake in Australia and around the world. Highly recommended.
About a third of Australians currently say that are either unsure they will get vaccinated for COVID19 or are firm that they won’t.
It is impossible to overstate how important it is that this dire situation is turned around fast and large proportion get fully vaccinated. The proportion of people needing to be vaccinated to see herd immunity established is not known. For measles it is 95% and for polio 80%. COVID19 is unlikely to be somehow any less than those figures. So we have a mountain to climb.
Low vaccination rates will greatly increase the probability of further outbreaks and keep the door locked on opening our borders, with all the devastation that will flow to all the industries that depend on travel and tourism and much more again.
One’s vaccinated status does not declare itself to others in the way that other health related behaviours can do. We see people wearing sun-smart hats and clothing. Smoking near others has become hugely unacceptable so we seldom experience it and don’t see it much. Many of us take reusable shopping bags with us when we shop. Coffee keepcup use is spreading. Jogging, walking and cycling are very public activities which can have contagious, normative effects on others.
So how can we spread the word that soon millions of us will be vaccinated for COVID19, in the hope that the same normative contagion might start turbo-charging in Australia and impact on the hesitant and the anti-social?
Many people wear lapel pins & ribbons for a variety of causes. Others put stickers on rear car windows. We do this to share ‘tribal’ values among our peers who recognize they are next to someone who acres about the same issues they do. We also hope our mobile mini billboards will be noticed by lots of others, start a few conversations and hopefully accelerate change.
On Cancer Daffodil Day, who hasn’t felt a little awkward when most people in the office are wearing a supportive pin but you’ve forgotten to put your hand in your pocket?
So why not get national momentum up on wearing a pin, badge or special ribbon that says simply “I’ve been vaccinated for COVID19”?
When I had my first shot this week (Astra Zenica) I tweeted about it and just now I see it’s had nearly 11,000 Twitter impressions. There is a COVID vax selfie thing happening too. Health Minister Greg Hunt is urging people to share them on social media.
But a pin or ribbon you wear everywhere for the rest of this year could become highly contagious. Those without them would (and should!) feel conspicuous by not wearing one in the same way that the minority of people who refused to wear masks did. Questions would be asked and conversations would invariably be started –some heated — as happened to me early in the pandemic when I wore a mask into a cake shop and got a spray from a maskless customer.
When prominent mask refusniks made their views public, many were shamed. Many of those who are quietly refusing to get vaccinated or freeriding on those of us who have got it done would probably also feel the heat.
The government has the address of every person who has already had a COVID shot. We could all be sent a few badges to wear and every authorized vaccination provider given as many badges as they are sent vaccine doses into the future. The government also has most of our addresses because they from time to time send us bin-worthy fridge magnets, as they did in 2003. Why not do this for something useful?
I’m old enough to remember having to carry the official yellow vaccination status card when traveling overseas. When I went overland by public transport from London to Calcutta in 1974, I had to be vaccinated for smallpox, cholera, typhoid and even bubonic plague. If you didn’t have the card they wouldn’t let you cross a border. Those objecting to vaccination just couldn’t travel. That knowledge was part of their decision-making.
Thanks to the vaccine, smallpox was eliminated in late 1975 when a 3 year old Bangladeshi girl was the last person to catch the disease in the wild. We are a long, long way from that with COVID19, with many knowledgeable people saying it will likely never be eliminated.
But as we have done with so many of the other vaccine preventable diseases, widespread uptake of vaccines has made some of these like measles and polio rare. We must do all we can to raise COVID vaccination rates. Making vaccine uptake something to be proud of, and refusal something that has consequences is unavoidable.
And please put this emoji 💉on all your social media handles.
On Sunday 30 May, 2021, NSW’s two koi clubs, the Australian Koi Association and the Koi Society of Australia are holding their combined annual koi show at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre, Horsley Park in Sydney’s western suburbs from 9am-3pm.
At the “Easter Show” of koi exhibition and competition in NSW, internationally accredited koi judges will select champions across a large range of koi varieties, as well as grand champion and other outstanding awards. Anyone curious about seeing the very best koi in NSW, will find no better opportunity than to spend a few hours looking at the hundreds of fish on display.
I’ve kept koi in our backyard pond for 21 years. Friends who come to our place are often spellbound by the beauty of what we have developed over the years. They tend to ask very similar questions about what’s involved in keeping koi, the costs, the problems as well as the sheepish perennials: do I give them names like cats and dogs (no), and do I ever eat them (no, but carp are one of the most eaten fresh water fish in the world, particularly in Eastern Europe).
With the show coming up, I thought I’d set out to answer questions I am most often asked about keeping koi.
How did you build your pond?
When my father Alec died in 1999 at 89, my share of his estate was just $26,000. Instead of just paying a soon-to-be-forgotten tranche off our mortgage, we decided to landscape our garden with a koi pond in his memory. We’d been mesmerized by one in a garden shop in Terry Hills which had been made in a Japanese style, with wooden bridges, large rocks, stone lanterns and a waterfall. It was unforgettably beautiful.
With our kids, we spent a couple of weekends digging out a large hole, and piling the soil at one end against a brick wall to create a mound on which to create a waterfall that would cascade into the pond. After about half a metre we struck our sewage pipes, so that defined the maximum depth of the pond we could build. Most ponds are deeper than ours, with many converting unwanted swimming pools.
There were three choices of pond liner in which the water sits: concrete, moulded fibreglass or a thick rubber sheet liner, cut to size to cover the floor of the pond, its sides and an overlap above the sides that would be anchored with rocks and soil. We went with the easiest option with the rubber and 21 years later it’s never sprung a leak.
A landscaper who’d never built a pond before but who came highly recommended fitted the rubber, landscaped the surrounds and the waterfall and constructed the essential filtration system that, driven by a 400watt 0.5 horsepower pool pump recycles water from the pond through a 250 litre bioball filter and back into the water, oxygenating it via the waterfall and a venturi. You cannot keep koi successfully in water that is not oxygenated nor filtered. Don’t even think about it. And keeping koi in an aquarium tank is both cruel and something that will be short-lived as they rapidly grow too big.
What did the pond cost to build and run?
Our pond has a very irregular shape, so its precise dimensions are hard to give accurately. My estimate is that it’s about 5000-6000 litres. 21 years ago, the combined cost of the large rubber pond liner, the biofilter, pump, four large fake fibreglass “rocks” on the waterfall that channel four water outlets into the pond, perhaps 2 tonnes of bush rocks, all the filter plumbing and plant landscaping around the pond and the labour was about $24,000. The required childproof fencing in glass was another $4000.
Most koi keepers run their filtration systems 24x7x365, so there is always the electricity cost of that which will depend on the size of your pond and pump. I have a timer on my pump which I set off during the peak electricity period (3pm-9pm) to save cost. During that time a timer turns on an 80w aerator ($100) which sends air bubbles to three points in the pond. We have a 5kw solar rooftop system on the roof which has reduced our total electricity bill, pond included, from about $2400 to $700 per year.
We direct rainwater runoff from the back of our house into the pond which saves on water top-up costs. It’s important to do periodic partial water changes to ensure water quality. That adds some cost, but I’ve never fainted on seeing our water bill.
There are also not very expensive costs involved in buying water quality testing chemicals for issues like PH, ammonia and nitrates. If water becomes too acidic, this is easily rectified by throwing in liberal quantities of bicarbonated soda. A 25kg bag can be bought for $33 from agricultural suppliers.
The staple food I feed our koi is protein pellets. I buy a 25kg bag about twice a year from a contact who sources it from a wholesaler who sells it principally to commercial fish farms. I pay $120 per bag. Koi are voracious eaters in summer, but eat perhaps 10% of their summer feed during colder winter months when they tend to slow down and are not as active in the pond.
Food at reasonable prices is sold at the koi auctions. But I never buy food from pet shops, eBay or even online so-called bulk suppliers where quite extortionate prices are charged for small packages.
I supplement the pellets with worms from our worm farm, maggots from the compost bin, stale bread, garden snails and slugs (we never use poisons), and left over cooked rice. In summer, throwing any of this in the pond causes piranha-like frenzied feeding. They also nibble algae from the sides of the pond and rocks and eat any mosquito larvae which find their way into the water.
Where can you buy koi in NSW?
I get my koi exclusively from two sources: koi auctions held 10 months of each year by rotation between the two clubs. Since March this year they have been held at Fairfield Showground on the Saturdays shown on the two clubs’ websites (links earlier in this blog).
About 125 bins containing either single or multiple koi are sold at each auction. Prices vary enormously according to quality and whether a particular bin attracts bidders willing to keep the price rising. The most expensive fish I’ve ever seen sold went for $2400 (to gasps and cheers) and the cheapest for $20. At each auction, there’s usually a few bins that go for over $500, but the great majority sell from about $70-$400. I’ve never seen a bin fail to sell. Even the ugliest of fish that only a mother could love will sell. “Catfood” is sometimes heard whispered.
Many koi keepers put word out to other collectors that they are looking for a particular variety. Word filters back that someone has a variety that you are looking for, particularly six months after a breeding session has produced hundreds of fish that can’t be kept by the breeder. I’ve acquired some of my best fish this way.
Female koi spawn in Spring, and there’s lots of folklore among breeders about when you can predict the exact spawning period will be. Moon phases, water and air temperature and storms are some of the factors you hear people swear by. Just as happens with horse, dog and cat breeders, koi breeders plan which variety pairings they will try to get together.
Not all who keep koi breed them. My impression is that most do not because to do so, you need a “bridal suite” tank where the selected male and female are placed together in the for a week or so in the hope that they will get to know one another. After spawning and fertilisation by the ardent male, the two adult fish are then removed. The fertilized eggs cling to simulated water plants (mop heads are often used) and then food, at first in powdered form and later in tiny pellets, is fed to the tiny fry. As they grow many with imperfections are culled and the rest are grown-on.
All this requires multiple ponds or large tanks which many do not have room nor inclination for. Me included.
There are also a small number of commercial koi suppliers that can be found on-line. Before I discovered the auctions, I bought from some of these but soon stopped. In my experience, their stock is massively over-priced and in some cases, the quality quite abject.
Varieties of koi
Koi is the Japanese word for carp. So if you hear someone saying “koi carp”, they are actually saying “carp carp”. There are many varieties and sub-varieties of koi, all bearing Japanese names. Youtube has many videos showing all the varieties like this one and this. All can breed with each other which is how different varieties emerged. Sub-varieties include metallic, gin rin (fish of all varieties which have silver scales which reflect sunlight), and doitsu and ‘leatherskin’ fish (those with few or no scales).
Most domestic koi usually grow toabout 38 cm (15 inches) long. Jumbo sized koi can grow up to 92cm (36 inches) but these are seldom seen in Australia. Koi can live for 25-35 years.
I’ve had three disasters with my koi in 22 years. The first was when my pond became infected with a virulent outbreak of Aeromonas bacteria which causes nasty skin ulcers, often fatal. The first death occurred while I was away and the person staying in the house missed seeing the floating dead fish which putrefied and infected others. When I returned about half my fish died within days, with others being saved by having an experienced koi keeper come over, catch and inject the sick fish with an antibiotic.
The second occurred when my pump died sometime between 6pm and 8am when I next looked at it. This caused oxygen levels to fall badly in the pond and I woke to find 12 fish, including many of my best, dead in the water.
The third incident occurred a few months ago when a tap topping up the pond was left on for several hours, causing lots of chlorinated water to enter the pond. Eight fish – again mostly my best – were floating dead. Chlorine is fatal to koi and significant tap water top-ups need to be accompanied by the addition of sodium thiosulphate salts or liquid, again purchasable inexpensively at the auctions.
A common problem with keeping koi is overcrowding. There is no strict formula for how many fish you can safely keep in a given body of water, because the different size of fish, the rate of filtration and the quality of your water will all be relevant. But always consider whether you already have too many fish before you buy more.
Join a koi club
If you are thinking of starting to keep koi, a very smart thing to do is to join one or both of the two koi clubs in NSW. There is a wealth of experience among koi keepers who range from very serious keepers with massive ponds and filtration systems, to people like me with modest sized ponds, and about 15 fish.
I have learned an awful lot, had to filter and research what to do when given conflicting information, met some great friends and immersed myself in a sub-culture and hobby that has given me thousands of hours of pleasure.
Sitting beside our pond on a warm summer’s evening with a gin and tonic, watching the fish glide under the wooden bridge, through the waterfall and around potted water plants is to have a world of serenity at your backdoor. Koi require maintenance and careful watching. I have favourites, but when they have died or been sold after getting too big for the pond, you don’t miss them like you would a dog in your life. They enhance a garden like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Highly, highly recommended.
Simon Chapman is patron of the Australian Koi Association.
In a piece published this month on April Fools Day in the Sydney Morning Herald by urban affairs reporter Megan Gorry, a picture was painted of Sydney’s Inner West Council region as post-apocalypse chainsaw central.
Between February 2020 and March 2021, 915 trees were removed. This was more than double the 373 felled in 2019 and 409 that came down in 2018. The Inner West’s tree canopy had fallen to 17.56%, againsta Sydney-wide average of 23%.Self-evidently a shocking state-of-affairs?
Well … not quite.
Green cover across Sydney varies enormously, with factors like building and population densities, parkland and rainfall differences all being important factors. Below are examples of a few Sydneylocal government areas’ green cover:
Lane Cove 45%
Inner West 22.23%
Sydney City 20.7%
Quite clearly areas like Sutherland, Ku-rin-gai and Lane Cove have massive national parks inside their perimeters, while last placed Sydney City has the CBD, with decent tree numbers mostly in the Botanic Gardens, Hyde Park and Barangaroo. If you take a look from a window of any tall building in the inner west, you see trees almost everywhere throughout the region. Some industrial areas with factories and warehouses within the area like Sydenham and parts of Marrickville make it difficult for the Inner West to ever have an abundance of trees throughout its entire area. And without national parks, it will never be in the top league like some of those listed above.
And so who was responsible for the Inner West’s 900 tree carnage last year? It’s those dastardly private landowners! The tree canopy on private land had fallen 20 hectares, while that on public land had grown by 6 hectares, thanks to tree planting by the Council.
I’m hereby outing myself and my wife as people who have signed the death warrant for two trees on our property over the last 30 years. But just in passing, we’ve also planted 13 other trees and very large shrubs (2 Robinia pseudoacia, 2 Elaecarpus emundi, 2 now huge camelia trees, 5 Syzygium australe ‘resilience’ – two metres tall after 1 year, 1 Lagerstroemia (Crepe Myrtle), 1 Tibouchina, and a huge stand of Dypsis lutescens (golden cane palm). But there’s not a lot of faux outrage news in that, it seems.
We’ve lived in our inner west house for 30 years. When we moved in, there was a towering 20 metre tallowwood tree (Eucalyptus microcorys) growing literally one metre from our kitchen wall and 3 metres from our neighbours’ house. They asked us to see if it could be removed. The council tree inspector came around and immediately gave approval, shaking his head in disbelief that such a massive tree could have ever been planted so near two houses.
At the rear of our back garden we had a 15m peppercorn tree (Schinus mole), a non-native. A 70 year old neighbour who was born in the same house he lives in today told us the tree was almost that big when he was boy. It was a beautiful tree with a nobbly 3.68 metre circumference. Our children had a cubby house platform three metres up a rope ladder. To call it imposing was an understatement. We loved it.
About 15 years ago, one of its huge boughs that went across the back lane was hit by two trucks. We applied successfully to have the bough removed and it took four men with a cherry picker several hours to cut it down.
In March 2017, we were experiencing sewage problems with toilet flushes taking a long time to clear. The plumbers quickly determined that there was extensive root penetration which had cracked and collapsed sections of the original clay sewage pipe. $7500 later their report stated in part:
The soil removal exposed extensive root penetration of the large peppercorn tree. These included two roots of approximately 140cm diameter which traversed the entire exposed hole, with one extending under the surface of the rear lane and the other looking like it would have gone under the wall of your garage and under the garage building of the neighbouring property. There were also many roots of smaller diameter from 1-5cm to approx. 60cm. These roots were severed by the excavator, with the two larger ones needed to be cut by a saw.
The tree had also caused extensive cracking to both the exterior and interior double brick walls of our garage, and to its 190cm thick reinforced concrete floor, as well as to raised garden bed brick retaining walls inside our yard. On several occasions I’d had to replace tiles on the garage roof smashed from falling branches.
Seeing this extensive root damage, I phoned the council tree inspector who came around immediately. I wanted him to see and photograph the root invasion for evidence I would provide in an application to remove the tree. On seeing that many roots of the tree had been cut by the excavator needed to get to the pipe damage, he intimidated the plumbers about whether they had applied for permission to cut the roots. I explained that sewage was threatening to overflow from our toilets and was happy to take this further if he believed there was a problem in what had been done. What other option did he suggest should have been taken, I asked.
It then got surreal. He explained in all seriousness that, to do everything possible to avoid damaging the tree roots, we might well have been ordered to re-route the entire sewage pipe from the back of our house to the rear lane. As all waste water currently exited out house from its right hand side, re-directing it to the left would have involved removing a large stand of golden cane palms, two mature robinia trees, demolishing and rebuilding a deck and a large pergola, demolishing a very large raised garden bed with mature shrubs and the brick retaining wall, demolishing and rebuilding our back fence, digging up the rear lane surface to run our pipes to the mains in the lane, and cutting a new hole in the mains. All this would have cost perhaps $40,000-$50,000 or more.
The inspector left telling me meaningfully that the council had been very reluctant to even let us remove the large bough years ago and that in his judgement any application to remove the tree, regardless of the damage it was causing, would be knocked back.
So when we learned in 2019 that the Inner West Council had passed policy, after intractable opposition from the Greens, to allow any tree that was within 2 metres of a building to be removed, we put in our application a nanosecond after the policy had finally passed through all the stages required. Our tree was 1.4m from our garage wall when measured 1m from the soil at base of tree (photo below). Along with about a dozen others with similar stories to ours, I’d addressed a council meeting in 2019. Only one resident spoke in opposition. I recall her framing her case in terms the need for everyone needing to play their part to reduce global deforestation. I sensed that, for her, almost no case could ever be made to remove any living tree, regardless of the circumstances or replacement plans.
When permission was given, we had the tree removed ($6400), and as required, we planted a replacement. We renovated the back garden and in a 1m raised garden bed planted two 1.5m native evergreen eumundi quandong trees (Elaecarpus emundi) which will grow to 12-25m.
So the 915 trees that were removed in the Inner West in 2020 included ours. Many of these would have been people like us who love trees, but who faced simply crazy costs and who had been waiting years for a sensible policy to be adopted. The extra numbers reflected a log jam that is now clearing.
Apparently the Greens have not given up their opposition to the tree removal policy.
[UPDATE 28 Apr 2021: the 3 authors of the paper discussed below have agreed to amend their response to reflect issues I raised with them in the email posted below. When this happens on the Addiction website, I will edit the blog below to reflect that.]
Earlier this year, Professor Virginia Berridge, a significant historian from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and four Australian authors from the University of Queensland published a paper in the international journal Addiction. The paper which can be read here looked at “understanding why Australia and England have such different policies towards electronic nicotine delivery systems.”
My colleague Mike Daube, an emeritus professor from Curtin University, and I were both named in the paper. We found several erroneous statements in the paper and so we wrote this response, setting out our concerns. This has now been published together with Berridge and two of her co-authors’ reply to our response.
In their reply they set out some corrections they agree needed to be made, but they have not corrected their comments on my involvement with BUGA UP, doubling down on them.
In their original paper, they wrote: ‘Chapman is an Emeritus Professor of public health who also has a long history as an anti-smoking activist, including as a proud founding member of BUGA UP in Australia, which spray-painted anti-smoking graffiti on cigarette advertising billboards ’.
That is simply wrong, and is not supported by the reference they provided. In our response we wrote that “Simon Chapman was not a member (let alone a ‘proud founding member’) of Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions (BUGA UP), and has indeed at various times paid credit to its founders and members”, providing two references here and here.
Prior to our response being published by Addiction today (26 April, 2021) I noticed that Berridge and colleagues reply had been published on the journal’s website. I read that they were “puzzled” that I had stated that I was not a founding member or even a member of BUGA UP.
So on 20 April, 2021 I sent the email below to Virginia Berridge, Wayne Hall and Coral Gartner, commenting on each of four new cited references which they seem to believe provide evidence that I indeed was a founding member/member of BUGA UP.
In the following days, I noticed that their response had been taken down from the Addiction website. I hoped that, now having been given explanations of their further errors, that they would have requested the take-down and edited it accordingly. But apparently not. They appear confident in their conviction that I was indeed a founding member/member of BUGA UP. I received no reply from them and their original reply has been published with its incorrect information intact.
To set the record straight, I publish my email to them.
20 April, 2021
“Dear Virginia (cc: Coral & Wayne)
I’ve seen your Addiction letter. Let me try to clear up your puzzlement about my status with BUGA UP, and whether I was a “proud founding member”.
I’ll start by saying emphatically that I know I was not a “member” of BUGA UP, let alone a “proud founding member”. So when you seek to assemble what you believe is evidence that I was a member or founding member, you’ll appreciate that this is somewhere between galling and amusing.
Let me take the sources used in your edited revision in the order you presented them in your letter, and then add an additional one – the archival mothership of evidence about BUGA UP that may have eluded you.
My statement early in my 2008 book “At our first meeting [of MOPUP] BUGA‐UP… was born… My modest involvement was to take ongoing responsibility for the billboard on a shop directly opposite the entrance to News Ltd… We held a 20‐year reunion in October 2003.” [in fact it was October 2002 .. my error]
Response: It is clear from the unedited quote and the reference supplied in my book (your reference #10) that I was in MOP UP, not BUGA UP when the original MOP UP launch meeting took place at the Sydney morgue. Several people who I had never met who attended were already graffitiing billboards before that meeting took place. So I could hardly have been a “founding member” of BUGA UP.
I lived near the News Limited building and I graffitied a small framed, perspex covered shopfront tobacco ad that was at street level on a tiny general store/sandwich shop directly opposite the News Limited entrance. I used a marking pen and always just wrote “cancer” across the covering perspex, which I imagine was quickly erased by with a rag and methylated spirit soon afterwards. I doubt if I did this more than five times. I never signed these “BUGA UP”, which was considered indicative of membership (“The principle was that if you did a billboard on your own you could sign it BUGA-UP and that meant you were part of BUGA-UP.”)
So this is quite a long way from the elaborate, marathon and years-long efforts of those who were BUGA UP mainstays, which is why I described my billboard graffiti career as “modest”. I graffitied a few times but I was not a member of BUGA UP, although I admired their efforts immensely. That is an important difference.
The 20 year reunion held, as this Sydney Morning Herald piece makes clear, was attended by those involved in MOP UP and BUGA UP. The photo shows seven people. L-R, numbers 1,3, 4 and 5 were in MOP UP, the others in BUGA UP. I have a very large number of news clips, newsletters and correspondence showing that I was one of the founding members of MOP UP.
“Simon Chapman was also a prominent spokesperson for Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions (BUGA UP)” your reference #4 (the BBC QED documentary in 1984)
Response: The event shown in the QED program was organized by BUGA UP. They tried to get a large crowd there to witness their civil disobedience knowing that the TV crew would be there to record it. There were lots of medical students and doctors who came along to support BUGA UP, as I did. I can identify several of them. To my knowledge, few if any of them other than those shown painting the billboard were people who were active in BUGA UP. I was there as a supporter too (the billboard was in Moore Park Rd near the (then) Sydney Sportsground, and I lived about 300m away in Selwyn St Paddington). I was interviewed not as a spokesperson for BUGA UP, but as someone who was prominent in tobacco control who had views about BUGA UP.
Similarly, in the ABC Today Tonight segment (hardly a “documentary”), I was not speaking as a BUGA UP member, but again as someone prominent in tobacco control. Nowhere am I described as being from BUGA UP. At one point, in recounting how the two groups emerged I said of the BUGA UP people who attended MOP UP’s launch “they said ‘you’re MOP UP, we’re BUGA UP”.
Response: I have never seen this article before you cited it. It was published in Autumn 2014. I notice in the reference list that the author says she had a personal communication with me in September 2003. So this is a longer gestation period than even Tolkein took to write Lord of the Rings. I have no recollection of speaking with the author, but I gave many, many interviews across the years and do not doubt that I did speak with her. But I certainly was never contacted by her to check or approve her attributions to me. Had I been, I would have corrected the following:
I was never “Professor of Community Medicine at Sydney University” (it’s public health).
She says I “hosted the reunion” (of BUGA UP). As mentioned above, it was a reunion of MOP UP and BUGA UP. The reunion was not held on “23 Aug 2003” but on 11 October 2002.
I was not a “founding member” of BUGA UP, nor a “member”.
BUGA UP’s archival website has a page where many press items have been posted. Please look through that page and on any of the other pages on the site and try to find any reference that says I was a member or founding member of BUGA UP. You won’t find any because I wasn’t.
So your letter in Addiction, despite being a correction of your original article, still contains errors. You could have very easily checked your assertions out with me prior to publication. I would have been very happy to assist you.
You also say that we provided no evidence that ATHRA took funding from KAC. But you could have checked that in a few seconds by googling [ATHRA + “Knowledge Action Change”] which would have taken you immediately to this Sydney Morning Herald item. You might also like to read this about the tobacco industry’s digital fingerprints on ATHRA’s website.”
This week a major Sydney GPS school suspended eight country boarding students who had been reported for vaping on the bus bringing them back to school after the school holidays. This was far from an isolated incident. Schools have been writing to parents threatening suspension for vaping. Convenience stores across Australia are awash with disposable nicotine vapes with sickly sweet chemical fruit flavours, all of course with iron-clad guarantees of being totally unappealing to kids.
Because they contain nicotine, their sale is totally illegal. In NSW, the Department of Health has seized stock and prosecuted a small number of sellers. If you bother to go searching, they also have a webpage where you can report retailers selling these highly profitable training wheels for many years of nicotine addiction. No data have been released about how many reports have been made to the webpage, but you can bet there is a giant chasm between report numbers, investigations by Health Department officials and court prosecutions.
All Big Tobacco companies are now neck deep in manufacturing vapes as well as their cigarette mainstays. With giant fingers crossed behind their backs, they all publicly sing the industry song that they really, truly want all their adult cigarette customers to stop smoking and switch to vaping. When confronted with data on the dramatic rise in teenage vaping, spin from the industry and its tame vaping advocate quislings goes like this:
Awr … that’s so unfortunate. Please, please kids, understand that vaping is meant to be for adults. And you don’t want people to think you’re like an adult do you!
But anyway, nicotine is not dangerous. Indeed, it’s almost a vitamin-like wonder drug. It’s tar and carbon monoxide from burning tobacco that are the problem. So all relax and let vaping rip.
So what if kids vape? It’s better that they vape than smoke. We are actually doing public health god’s work these days! (conveniently omitting to mention that smoking — and any nicotine use — by kids is at an all-time record low – see chart at end)
So how has it happened that vaping is exploding among kids in Australia?
The import ban was originally proposed by Hunt as critical to the success of the decision of the Therapeutic Goods Administration to require all those wanting to legally access NVP to have a doctor’s prescription after Oct 1, 2021. Those importing will also need to have a prescription, but there are a bewildering number of questions needing clarification to assess how the rubber will meet the road or whether the whole scheme will be a fizzer.
How will these import shipments be described?
What will stop exporters mislabelling them as other goods?
How will the required prescriptions be attached to shipment manifests?
How will exporters check that prescriptions are valid and not photoshopped?
How will they ensure a prescription hasn’t been used repeatedly, perhaps by on-sellers?
How will post office workers or couriers open imported packages to see if the contents are permitted under the prescription?
How will they know the person receiving them is who was named on the prescription?
How will they ensure the person receiving them is over 18, as required?
Quite obviously, the import scheme will see both individual vapers and entrepreneurs exploit many of these. There will be so many ways for those who won’t be bothered to get a NVP license and kids to game the importation route. I often get courier delivered goods and it’s common for the delivery guy to just ask you for your name without any ID requirement, or for you to dash out any old signature on their digital machine.
Retail availability of Disposable Nicotine Vaping Products (DNVPs) in Australia
DNVPs are already being heavily marketed and sold via social media platforms in plain sight. A simple search for the brand ‘Puff Bar’ on Instagram provides this array of opportunites:
With the rise in popularity, availability and production of DNVPs, both genuine and illicit (although the two are most often indistinguishable), came the rise in direct from China online retailing. A brief desktop search finds a number of offshore retail sites for DNVPs, most of which appear to be for direct from China sales:
These sites often bear typical signatures of direct from China retail sites with clear syntactical errors in the English translation, consistent with machine translation. The sites themselves are typically ‘au’ specific sub-sites of international domains.
If you go to Facebook marketplace and search for “fruit”, “mixed fruit” or “fruit bars” you’ll be deluged with offers to buy NVPs, in twee ads like those below that, your honour, are not for vapes at all, but for mixed fruit. A phone call to the numbers shown finds that all the fruit you hoped for has sadly sold out, but if you’d like bulk buy vapes you’re in luck!
Disposable NVPs are sold at very low price point so the manufacturing standards used in DNVPs are commensurately low. It is simply not possible to manufacture a high quality, reliable and safe NVP at this price point. Cheap e-cigs use cheap batteries. Exploding ecig batteries are primarily due to the use of cheap, untested and uncertified lithium-ion batteries. As seen in news reports of exploding devices, the exothermic (explosive) potential of a lithium-ion battery is obvious.
This out of control farce has been happening in Australia for months. Retailers are displaying the illegal products openly in many shops having calculated that the chances of prosecution are beyond miniscule. My mail is that there is yet another classic duck-shoving exercise in federal/state responsibilities underway on this. All state and territory health departments are pointing their fingers at the commonwealth government for shelving the decision to ban personal importation of NVPs and urging that the ban be reinstated. The Commonwealth washes its hands, responding that it is a state government responsibility to police retailing breaches, not theirs.
While no recent survey data are available, it seems highly likely that when they are next published that we will see what Canada, the US and New Zealand have experienced with regular vaping (not just curiosity experimentation) being repeated here.
Australia has an exemplary track record in reducing the number of children who smoke (see chart). These data are draining the life blood out of the tobacco industry with ever-diminishing cohorts of would-be smokers failing to take it up. The tobacco industry’s acolytes in the Australian parliament who are now threatening this massive public health success story need to be urgently stopped.
The NVP import ban should be reinstated quickly. The original $250,000 fines should remain as a serious deterrent to those profiting from this political public health vandalism.
Postscript (3 May 2021): The Deputy Secretary of the Australian Department of Health and head of the Health Product Regulation Group Adjunct Professor John Skerritt has replied to this blog here. I will comment on his letter at a later date