[This blog was updated on 22 Jul, 2022]
In this blog, I’ll mostly just let the pictures do the talking. See if you can spot a trend.
Australia has two main activist groups out on the hustings for e-cigarettes: ATHRA (the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association) and Legalise Vaping Australia (LGA) .. see more below.
Above: Tim Wilson MP (left) and Senator James Paterson (right) are former Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) employees. Colin Mendelsohn (centre) is a board member of ATHRA and an inveterate advocate for e-cigarettes. In 2010 Wilson had a very florid case of foot-in-mouth disease about plain tobacco packs when he was at the IPA, arguing that the adventure would cost the Australian government $3 billion (yes, billion) a year (yes, each year) in compensating tobacco companies for their “confiscated” intellectual property (their pack branding, if you can’t follow that). All that went quite down the drain when Australia’s High Court upheld the government’s actions by 6-1 with the World Trade Organization similarly waving it through. You can read the whole saga here from p144. Mendelsohn’s public brown-nosing of this pair in this tweet caused hilarity among people I talked to.
Above: The sartorially elegant representatives and associates of Legalise Vaping Australia, a project of the Australian Taxpayers Alliance, which is in turn affiliated with a miscellany of far right “groups”, as we can see by the striking similarity in the wording of these tweets sent by these five twitter accounts after the death of cartoonist Bill Leak on March 10, 2017. Mendelsohn from ATHRA is 6th from the left. Fashion note: it is always important to wear your broad brimmed hat indoors.
Legalise Vaping Australia has presented its political champions with dinky little awards that obviously would have gone straight to their pool rooms.
I’ve been unable to ascertain whether the value of these plaques takes them over the threshold for mandatory disclosure on the parliamentary gift register. But suffice to say they are obviously priceless, coming from such an esteemed organisation as the LVA.
Above: Brian Marlow (“campaign coordinator”, Legalise Vaping), Andrew Laming MP (Liberal, Qld), Tim Andrews, “executive director” of the Australian Taxpayers Alliance, and Satya Loren, the ATA’s “director of policy”. Some important sounding titles here.
In March 2021, Laming was ordered by the Prime Minister to make an unconditional apology in parliament to two women in his Queensland electorate who he had been trolling. Lots of plain speaking followed on twitter about this.
Above: Our three ATA/LVA champions with Sen Eric Abetz (Lib, Tasmania).
So how many “members” or “supporters” or whatever word you want to use, does the ATA have? Actually, it depends on where you look on its website, as I found out.
Above: Hey, they’re all getting gonged! Senator Cory Bernardi (Australian Conservatives, South Australia). And who could ever forget Cory’s concerns that legalising same sex marriage could lead to bestiality (“The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society – or any other type of relationship. There are even some creepy people out there… [who] say it is OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future will we say, ‘These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union’.I think that these things are the next step.” Australian comedians had a ball with this.
Above: “Colourful” NSW Upper House Liberal Peter Phelps is much appreciated by LVA. In 2011, Phelps made a speech in which he compared scientists who believe in global warming to those who worked for totalitarian regimes. He said it should not be forgotten that “some of the strongest supporters of totalitarian regimes in the last century have been scientists… We should not be so surprised that the contemporary science debate has become so debased,” he said. “At the heart of many scientists – but not all scientists – lies the heart of a totalitarian planner.”
Unkindly dubbed by some as “the Senator representing Philip Morris”, the great man David Leyonhjelm (then Liberal Democrat, NSW) was of course always going to get an award for his ceaseless efforts. The Liberal Democrats are very happy to have it known that they are supported by Philip Morris. Leyonhelm is a staunch enemy of gun control, with his party retweeting the grotesque tweet below after the June 2015 Charleston church massacre, when a gunman murdered 9 black parishioners:
Writing in Farm Online in 2015, he also unforgettably compared the situation of caged battery farmed chickens with sports fans in very crowded stadiums who choose to not take themselves out of such crowding. Sounds a perfectly apposite comparison, eh?
In 2020, Leyonhjelm lost his appeal in the Federal Court against a judgement that he had defamed South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young by stating publicly in June and July 2018 that Hanson-Young had said “All men are rapists” and was actuated by malice and intended to shame Hanson-Young. He was ordered to pay $120,000 in damages plus costs
Senator Hollie Hughes (Liberal NSW)
In February 2021, veteran journalist Neil Chenoweth at the Australian Financial Review published several lengthy pieces here, here and here about connections between tobacco companies and vaping advocates in Australia, Senator Hollie Hughes, a NSW Liberal senator who has chaired the November 2020 Senate Committee on Tobacco Harm Reduction, only to be rolled into signing a minority report by the majority of the Committee, featured prominently in one of these reports.
In June 2020, Hollie Hughes appeared on an ABC-TV Four Corners program about vaping where she asked the interviewer “What is Big Tobacco? Define Big Tobacco. Who are they?” Her reaction is unforgettable.
Michael Johnsen (National Party NSW)
NSW Upper House National Party MP Michael Johnsen was lauded by vaping lobby group ATHRA when he announced in November 2020 that he planned to get parliamentary support to make e-cigs “a consumer product”, allowing them to be sold almost anywhere. In late March 2021, Johnsen faced an allegation that he had raped a sex worker, and resigned his government position, moving to the NSW parliamentary cross-bench while police investigate the allegation. Johnsen may have less time for his planned campaigning for e-cigarettes and ATHRA has been curiously quiet about the latest political champion.
These are the political bedfellows of vaping advocacy in Australia today.
Liz Harris said:
Hi Simon, another great article. I noticed that the plaques being given out feature the “Rod of Asclepius” medical symbol, to give the false impression that it is some medical body rather than a bunch of tobacco lobbyists giving out the plaque. Is there no end to the nerve of these people?!
Interesting framing, from my knowledge the Australians for tobacco harm reduction are not accepting money from vaping companies according to a presss release earlier this week.
Isn’t vaping just less harmful than smoking according to the British medical association?
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Simon Chapman AO said:
ATHRA announced this week that it would no longer accept financial support from the vape industry. Two articles by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Esther Han in 2018 revealed that they had been accepting this support. The common convention in science is that you still need to declare relevant funding for three years after it ceases.
We will not know if vaping is less, or differently harmful than smoking for many years. Lung and cardiovascular disease and cancers do not appear days, weeks, months or typically even for many years after smoking commences. Vaping has only been around for about 10 years to any significant extent — far too early to call whether it is less or differently dangerous to smoking.
Simon but what about the British Medical Associations recognition that vaping reduces harm compared to cigarettes. Surely it’s the lesser of two evils.
Simon Chapman AO said:
You show me the BMA, and I’ll raise you … There are a very large number of national and international agencies and expert individuals who have expressed concern about the efforts of the tobacco and vaping industries to hype claims about safety and efficacy of ecigs and heat-not-burn products , to urge the WHO not not engage with these interest groups and to urge governments to strictly regulate these products. Here are a few examples
Among leading health agencies with strong concerns about ENDS are the World Health Organization, the US Surgeon General, the, the US FDA,, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and the TGA.
● US Food and Drug Administration (see regulations here https://www.fda.gov/tobaccoproducts/labeling/productsingredientscomponents/ucm456610.htm#regulation)
● US Surgeon General (see https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/2016_sgr_full_report_non-508.pdf)
These 51 US groups listed below have all urged the US political administration to support the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of ENDS (see http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/press_releases/post/2017_05_17_fda)
Action on Smoking & Health
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association for Cancer Research
American Association for Dental Research
American Association for Respiratory Care
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
American College of Cardiology
American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
American College of Physicians
American College of Preventive Medicine
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Dental Association
American Heart Association
American Lung Association
American Medical Association
American Psychological Association
American Public Health Association
American School Health Association
American Society of Addiction Medicine
American Society of Clinical Oncology
American Thoracic Society
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights
Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy and Leadership
Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric & Neonatal Nurses
Big Cities Health Coalition
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America
Eta Sigma Gamma – National Health Education Honorary
March of Dimes
National African American Tobacco Prevention Network
National Association of County and City Health Officials
National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
National Center for Health Research
National Hispanic Medical Association
National Network of Public Health Institutes
National Physicians Alliance
Oncology Nursing Society
Public Health Solutions
Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions
Society for Public Health Education
Students Against Destructive Decisions
The Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education
Tobacco Control Legal Consortium
Trust for America’s Health
United Methodist Church- General Board of Church and Society
In Australia, the NHMRC, the Cancer Council, the Heart Foundation, the Australian Medical Association, Lung Foundation Australia, Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand and the Public Health Association of Australia and New Zealand have all expressed support for TGA regulation of ENDS.
Hi Simon. Great to see you’re still fighting the good fight. Ken Thompson (Former Deputy Commissioner Fire & Rescue NSW)