[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.