Later today Australia’s Senate Select Committee on Tobacco Harm Reduction will release its report to the Senate. The Committee was chaired by Senator Hollie Hughes (Liberal NSW), who has often been openly supportive of vaping. Others on the Committee were Matt Canavan (Liberal National Queensland), who has also embraced vaping; Tony Sheldon (Labor, NSW), Anne Urquhart (Labor, Tasmania), Sarah Henderson (Liberal, Victoria),  and Sterling Griff (Centre Alliance, South Australia). Rachel Siewert (Greens, Western Australia) was a participating member who asked many important questions of witnesses in the two days of public hearings.

As embarrassingly occurred with the 2018 House of Representatives inquiry into vaping chaired by Trent Zimmerman (Liberal), it’s now happened again. Those who called for this Senate Committee (Hughes and Canavan) were outvoted and their views have been relegated to  minority report political dustbin status, with the other four senators signing off on the report itself.

While the committee had terms of reference and took evidence on a wide range of issues to do with vaping, the main focus was always on the proposal that the Therapeutic Goods Administration would allow doctors to prescribe time-limited access to nicotine juice to be used in vaping, and that those issued with such prescriptions would have them filled at pharmacies. To make this work, the government would have to prohibit the personal importation of nicotine  and continue to outlaw its sale through specialist vape shops and any other retailer who wanted to profit from its sale (Ampol aka Caltex put in an enthusiastic submission wanting to do just that).

The TGA itself will be publishing a report by the end of the month on its own deliberations about the proposal for prescription access.

Four memorable moments

There were some memorable moments in the two day hearings. On day 1, the Committee chair Hollie Hughes declared that Colin Mendelsohn, the  irrepressible vaping advocate,  was her doctor. “The first thing I’d like to say, as a declaration, is that Dr Mendelsohn is actually my doctor. He’s helping with my smoking cessation. Just so it’s clear, I do have a professional relationship with Dr Mendelsohn, whom I saw 60 days ago, which was the last time I had a cigarette.”

No show witness

Hughes also blew a public birthday kiss to the head of the Legalise Vaping Australia campaign, Brian Marlow, who is capital E-D Executive Director of the Australian Taxpayers Alliance, which has long been shy about its funding. LVA’s agenda was at all costs, to stop the ban on personal importation of nicotine and to see off the Greg Hunt/TGA prescription proposal. It looks like they have failed again.

All those giving evidence to the Committee were asked to declare under oath whether they were now or had ever received support from the tobacco, vaping or pharmaceutical industry. One group due to give evidence was the lobby group Legalise Vaping Australia. But at the last minute, they withdrew.

I tweeted wondering if their decision might have had anything to do with avoiding answering under oath questions about support received from vaping or tobacco interests. LVA’s Brian Marlow explained that he had to have an emergency dental procedure.

My 32 page submission (with professors Mike Daube and Matthew Peters) can be downloaded here.

Dr Sarah White from Quit Victoria wondered why Marlow didn’t ask one of the staff he executively directs to sub for him. Marlow replied that it was all too important a matter to delegate to volunteers.

But there was an obvious substitute. Why couldn’t Marlow’s painful mouth be  replaced at the Senate hearing by his rising star, ATA and Legalise Vaping “Policy Director” Emilie Dye (now also grandly titled “Executive Director” of the HR Nicholls Society). Dye knows the topic inside-out,  has written various Spectator articles on tobacco and vaping and did a lot of LVA’s MP and media phone-bashing and media commentary on the June nicotine import ban. She has appeared before Senate committees before so that box was ticked too. And she was definitely not on holidays in the week before the hearing (busy cheering on/ taking credit for Perrotet/ NSW govt tax plans). She also comes with the added bonus of being  well accustomed to defending ‘think tank’ ATA’s funding secrecy, on Twitter.

So while all witnesses had to answer questions  on competing interests under oath,  Legalise Vaping Australia avoided doing so.

“Simon Chapman just lied under oath”

On the morning I gave evidence, I was asked early on by Senator Sheldon “Do you receive, or have your organisation ever received, direct or indirect support from the pharmaceutical industry, including travel, attendance at conferences or event sponsorship, including from manufacturers of nicotine replacement therapies?”

Minutes later a vaping activist from Queensland who was watching the session live, tweeted to Hughes and Canavan “Simon Chapman just lied under oath. 2013 Simon Chapman was on the board of the Cancer Council and took money from Pfizer. Proof “(with a link to a Pfizer document about its charitable donations.

Toward the end of my evidence, Hughes who had not left the room during my evidence and so must have been reading her tweets or getting texts from a staffer who was, asked me if I had been on the Cancer Council board in 2013. As I’d served on the board of the Cancer Council NSW from 1997-April 2006, I thought it was an odd question and replied that no, I was not. I’d also never taken any funding from Pfizer and the “proof” was that Pfizer had given a small donation to a fun run and another to a meeting of people helping to counsel those with cancer.

Everything in the tweet except the spelling of my name was completely wrong and defamatory.

After the session I saw the tweet and demanded it be removed, and an apology be pinned to her twitter feed for a year. She did.

Clive Bates on flavours

Then there was the total owning of the venerable Clive Bates by Senator Anne Urquhardt. Bates, as he likes to remind people with amusing regularity, headed England’s Action on Smoking and Health way back between 1997-2003, 17 years ago.  Since Clive thinks that’s a cutting edge credential today, I guess I may as well also declare that in 1963, I was awarded both a Good Camper’s Certificate and was dux of my primary school. Both, you’ll all agree, are important and timely bits of information.

Today Bates is a darling of the vaping cult and welcomed at tobacco industry meetings. Since 2014, he has attended every Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum, the global tobacco industry’s annual Chatham House rules get together. But he apparently always pays his own way to these and other events, because he made a declaration to the Senate (see #60) on questions about any competing interests and support received.

Earlier in the day, I had made a point that no asthma inhaler drugs (which save lives) use flavours to make the puffer experience more palatable. I also wrote about this here. I wanted the Committee to reflect on why that might be. The answer is that no pharmaceutical regulatory agency in the  world would allow drugs to be sold with inhalable flavours because none have been passed as safe to inhale (while many have been passed as safe to ingest in food and drinks). This is apparently not seen as a problem by vaping advocates.

Senator Urquhart put this issue to Bates for comment, asking “There are about 2.7 million asthmatics in Australia. Many of them inhale asthma medication up to five times a day, roughly. None of those are flavoured, because of those safety concerns that Senator Griff raised. If e-cigarettes were regulated as medicines, I assume it would be unlikely that flavours would be approved. Can you just step me through your view? Why is it sensible to not allow asthma puffing drugs to be flavoured but okay to allow vapers to inhale flavours on an average of, I think, 173 times a day?”

After a few squirming attempts to evade  the question he finally relented, conceding “But you’re perfectly correct; most of the flavours have not been evaluated as safe for inhalation.” There are now about 15,000 of these.