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.”
In April, 2021 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
Over the past few years, a conga line of English tobacco control academics and e-cigarette barrow-pushers has been in Australia and contributed to parliamentary inquiries in the hope of convincing we ignorant colonials how critical e-cigarettes have been to tobacco control in the Old Blighty. Dummy spits have been rife when their gospel advice has been ignored. Colonial insolence has been decried when heretics pointed out that smoking affordability was rather more closely related to prevalence trends than was e-cigarette use.
So enter stage left a certain virus. Since March 2020 when COVID began its devastation, the number of English smokers who have tried to quit has increased sharply as has the proportion of those attempts that is successful (see purple line below). So how did they do it? Not in the main by vaping. The proportion of English smokers using e-cigarettes while trying to quit has continued a steady decline that began in late 2016, with a few temporary peaks around promotional events such as Stoptober.
In early 2016, English smokers trying to quit did it unassisted (cold turkey) in roughly the same proportion as those using e-cigs. Today, the rate of unassisted cessation is more than double that of EC use, all against a background of wall-to-wall high street vaping shops, an almost cult-like veneration of e-cigs by the English tobacco control establishment, long term demonisation of cold turkey (see illustrations below) and massive advertising and promotional campaigns by vaping manufacturers.
Their brethren in Australia valiantly continue to chant the English gospel but the annoying data just won’t go away.
Here is an English translation of a piece published on 14 April, 2021 in the French newspaper Le Monde. It is a profile of Derek Yach, the former senior WHO official who played a major role in establishing the global Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (the FCTC). Today Yach leads the Foundation for a Smokefree World, an “independent” organisation entirely funded by Philip Morris International.
It is illegal in Australia to buy nicotine for vaping, either separately or in an e‑cigarette, without a prescription. The sale, supply and possession of nicotine liquid is controlled under a mixture of national, state and territory laws that regulate it as a prescription drug when used for therapeutic purposes, and otherwise as a dangerous poison available to only those authorised to handle it.
From October 1, the law will be clearer. Changes to the Poisons Standard, following a review by the TGA last year, leave no doubt that nicotine liquid for vaping will be legally available only on a doctor’s prescription.
Pressure to loosen the law has been intense yet the majority report of a Senate committee on the regulation of e-cigarettes last November held firm. As only registered pharmacists can fill prescriptions, the laws preventing convenience stores, service stations and vape shops from selling e-cigarettes containing nicotine will remain. Few Senate committee members were convinced by hand-on-heart assurances from Ampol/Caltex that their service station staff would be highly trained if allowed to sell vapes.
The committee was chaired by Liberal Hollie Hughes. Hughes and Matt Canavan were rolled by all other members for their de facto anything-goes plan to allow nicotine juice to be sold almost anywhere, with any flavouring, in any quantity or nicotine concentration. A Financial Review exposé showed Hughes socialising with and being lauded by a British American Tobacco Australia lobbyist and vaping advocates with links to Phillip Morris, despite government guidelines about interaction with tobacco companies.
In June 2020, Health Minister Greg Hunt tried to stop vapers from importing liquid nicotine for personal use. This is allowed under the Personal Importation Scheme if the buyer has a prescription from a doctor registered in Australia. Backbench pressure from Nationals and some in the Liberal’s right flank saw Hunt’s attempt quietly dropped.
No nicotine products have been approved by the TGA. This means that doctors cannot prescribe them (other than under the Personal Importation Scheme) unless they have been specially authorised. It also means that the products have not been tested for safety, quality or efficacy. For users, the message is ‘buyer beware’.
Nearly all Australian health and medical groups are united that if nicotine liquid is to be available, it should only be via prescription and not sold over the counter. They also agree that the TGA is the appropriate regulator but there are limits on its controls, the advice it can give on the use of products that it hasn’t tested or approved, and which haven’t been established to have any therapeutic benefit.
The TGA’s preferred prescription options are currently disturbingly minimalist in what they require of prescribing doctors. If things proceed as is, prescribing doctors may be exposed to potential legal liability and vapers to avoidable health risks, and the tsunami of illegal on-selling to teenagers without much stronger enforcement of the law will continue. The TGA would allow a doctor to simply write “nicotine liquid” or “nicotine salts” for three months supply. Just as no doctor would ever simply prescribe “methadone” or “codeine” without specifying a dose, so should it be equally unacceptable to do this on a prescription for nicotine.
Then let’s consider vape flavours. Some 2.3 million Australians have asthma and most regularly use inhalers for breathing relief. No nebuliser drugs anywhere in the world are sold flavoured because no regulatory agency, including the TGA, has ever declared inhaling flavouring chemicals to be safe. Those importing nicotine juice have 15,000 flavours to choose from which they inhale an average of 173 times a day – 62,780 times a year. This is a ticking chronic disease time-bomb across long-term use, unless properly regulated by the TGA with its brief of monitoring adverse reactions.
Here’s how some of these risks can be minimised.
First, Greg Hunt’s ban on personal importation of nicotine liquid should be urgently reinstated.
Second, if that fails politically, then reflecting a December 2020 recommendation of a WHO expert committee, the government should ban the importation, sale and possession of all vapable nicotine not in sealed “pod” systems which prevent users from altering the contents by boosting the nicotine dose and adding unregulated flavours.
Third, all prescriptions should be required to specify a particular product that has met minimum standards. The TGA has released for public consultation a draft standard setting out minimum requirements for labelling, packaging and contents. This should only be a starting point. Vapers importing from overseas may be unknowingly consuming products mixed in crude, unregulated “bathtub labs” by opportunist entrepreneurs. Any health problems arising may see vapers take legal action against doctors whose non-specific scripts opened the gate to use of these products.
Fourth, the TGA is putting no limit on nicotine concentration or volume of liquid: GPs can technically prescribe litres and litres of highly concentrated neurotoxin. This is a reckless loophole that could be easily closed.
Fifth, the TGA’s proposed standard for nicotine liquid should specify that the products must made with pharmaceutical grade ingredients and meet declared high product manufacturing standards.
And sixth, with federal border security staff able to inspect only a tiny fraction of incoming mail, and state health department inspectors having many other duties than checking if nicotine is being sold illegally away from pharmacies, fines for those exploiting the loophole provided by the Personal Importation Scheme to import without a prescription or sell to other people rather than use it themselves need to be set at seriously deterrent levels. The maximum penalty for illegally importing liquid nicotine products is $222,000. This maximum is likely to apply to large scale importing efforts by criminals, But fines for individuals importing without prescriptions need to be substantial too or many take their chances with what will be low risk detection rates.
Australian vaping retailers have shown widespread willingness to ignore the law and kids currently find it very easy to buy vapes like those shown below. Allowing personal importation to continue, already banned for tobacco, will see predatory on-sellers supplying and expanding this lucrative market. This seriously risks addicting hundreds of thousands of Australian teenagers to nicotine who would have never used it in any form and causing cardiorespiratory disease in years to come. Few doctors will issue nicotine prescriptions to minors.
What are we to make of the governments of 11 nations (Ireland, Iceland, Netherlands, Denmark, Bulgaria, Norway, Thailand and most recently, France, Italy, Germany and Spain) suspending the rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine following as yet unspecific reports of “blood clotting” or thrombosis in what is a reportedly small number of those being vaccinated in Norway?
There are some basic considerations that all reading these news reports need to keep in mind. Foremost here is that blood clotting is far from uncommon. Around 30,000 people develop blood clots (venous thromboembolism (VTE) – in the deep veins of the leg (deep vein thrombosis) or in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), every year in Australia, with about 5,000 dying as a result. Many of these develop post-operatively in hospitals and account for about 10% of all deaths in hospitals.
The risk factors for developing thrombosis include:
High blood pressure (hypertension)
Lack of activity and obesity
Family history of arterial thrombosis
Lack of movement, such as after surgery or on a long flight
All of these risk factors are of course very prevalent in most societies, which explains why the prevalence of thrombosis is also significant. Aging is perhaps the single most important risk factor: thrombosis is very rare in young people (< 1 per 10 000 per year) but increases to around 1% per year in the elderly.
This means that, regardless of whether there is any COVID-19 vaccine program being rolled out in any nation, we should expect to see many cases of thrombosis. With the aged and those with chronic disease being prioritised in vaccine rollouts, we would therefore expect the incidence (new cases) of thrombosis to be considerably higher in these groups than in segments of the population who have been given lower priority in the rollout queue.
But this may have nothing to do with the vaccine.
Epidemiologists investigating whether reports of possible rises or clusters in the incidence of diseases always look first to what the “expected” or background incidence is, and then statistically compare this with the current “observed” rate. If the observed rate is significantly higher than that which earlier data would suggest should be expected, and comparable ages are being considered, then focus quickly shifts to investigating possible plausible other causes.
I’ve yet to find any reports that this point has been reached in the Norwegian investigations.
Reasoning that just because symptoms of disease occur after exposure to some agent (drug, vaccine, contaminant etc), that one of these agent must have caused the symptoms, is known as the post hoc ergo propter hoc (after, therefore because of) fallacy.
During my career I’ve seen many examples of media and community alarm bells going off because of this reasoning. For example, when nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) first became available in the early 1990s, there were claims that some people using it were having heart attacks. It was not rocket science to point out that all who were using NRT were smokers, and that smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and heart attack. Of course there would have always been smokers using NRT and trying to quit who were already at high risk of heart trouble, regardless of whether they were using NRT.
I used to start an early lecture to new public health students by saying that about 90% of drivers involved in serious road accidents in their commute to work, had eaten breakfast. Was it therefore reasonable and sensible to suspect that eating breakfast increased your chances of being injured on the road shortly afterwards? Obviously not.
Nearly all of the suspending nations have many advanced epidemiologists . These nations are also not known for imprudent policy shifts based on knee-jerk reasoning. Their decision to suspend the roll-out is therefore significant. We should expect a thorough analysis of the issues raised above and of each of the Norwegian cases.
[this blog was updated twice after publication to increase the number of suspending nations from 4 to 11]
In 2006, we lived in Lyon in a 17th century apartment, just up Montée de Chemin Neuf about 300m from the old town, Vieux Lyon, with its cobbled narrow streets, subterranean traboules and gastronomic restaurants. I was on the first sabbatical I had ever taken in more than 25 years as an academic. I had a desk at the WHO’s International Agency for Research in Cancer and wrote a textbook on public health advocacy across 8 months of one of the best years of my life.
We became great friends with some neighbours, Claire-Marie and Phillipe. Two years after returning home, we returned to Europe on a holiday and decided to fly first to Lyon and spend time with them again.
We decided to take them a really good Australian wine. I bought a Penfolds St Henri. I fretted about it being smashed in the stowed luggage, even if packed in rolls of clothing in the centre of the suitcase. So I packed in it in my hand luggage.
The luggage scanning camera picked it up as we went through customs, just after immigration and of course it was confiscated. In the excitement of the departure, I’d totally forgotten about the liquids ban. “Are you some kind of moron, Simon?” Trish said to me loudly as the uniformed customs man placed it in the box where all the confiscated perfumes, cosmetics, and nail files so often used by terrorists to hijack aircraft were stored for destruction each day. I had visions of the loud guffawing in the customs officers’ staff room and scissors-paper-rock rounds being played to find which one would take my bottle home.
“Well, you idiot, we’re now going to have to buy a replacement in the duty-free area here and so pay all that money all over again” my sanctimonious wife delighted in telling me. “And don’t think you’re going to get away with buying something cheap. I know you!”
So, a second St Henri in hand, ensconced in its sealed thick plastic see-through duty-free bag, we set off for Frankfurt, where we’d change planes for the flight south to Lyon–Saint Exupéry Airport airport.
At Frankfurt we had to collect our stowed bags and go through customs to board the internal EU flight to Lyon. So of course, with my luck, the second St. Henri was confiscated again.
My empathic wife this time unloaded audibly and unmercifully “Don’t you ever think anything through? I can’t believe your stupidity!” I gently reminded her that it was she who had insisted I buy the new bottle at Sydney. “So aren’t you the one who travels all the time for work? Didn’t you stop for a second and think that this might happen?” she continued.
Never her fault.
“We just can’t arrive bare-handed. You’re just going to have to buy them another bottle. And DO NOT be mean – get them something really good.” I knew I had to do this. Third time lucky.
But of course, the world famous Australian wine section in Frankfurt’s duty-free section was nowhere to be found. If I wanted a French grand cru or an Italian Brunello, there were row upon row to choose from. But I couldn’t take coal to Newcastle, so settled on an aged litre of single malt, which almost melted my credit card.
So we made our way toward the gate to board our flight to Lyon. Not 20 metres from the duty-free cash register, the bag holding the whiskey split and with an almighty crash, Scotland’s finest pooled all over the hard tiled floor. I took the sodden split bag back to the cash register protesting the bag I had been given and wanting a refund. There was talk about me waiting for the duty manager to get back from some far flung part of the airport to make a decision. But our flight was leaving in 20 minutes.
We flew to Lyon empty-handed. Claire-Marie and Phillipe laughed and laughed and said they didn’t ever really drink whiskey anyway. They opened some superb Condrieu and Haut Medoc.