By Katie Johnson
The City of Melbourne has unanimously passed a motion that bans e-cigarettes and vaping in 11 smoke-free areas of the CBD.
The move extends the definition of smoking under local laws to include using an e-cigarette, which is in line with the state government’s Tobacco Act 1987.
Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said that “on balance” he was supportive of the vaping ban in selected areas of the city.
“There’s vaping which still has nicotine involved, and then there’s vaping which is, supposedly, in some cases a stepping stone to quitting,” Cr Wood said.
“So, I’m comfortable in the fact that this is restricted to our smoke-free areas as they stand, but I am worried about the alignment with the tobacco act if we keep pushing for more smoke-free areas.”
Currently, there are 11 designated smoke-free areas within the City of Melbourne including Bourke Street Mall, Goldsbrough Lane, The Causeway, QV Melbourne, Equitable Place, Howey Place, Block Place, the Tan and Princes Park running tracks, Collins Way and Fulham Place.
With this ban now passed, anyone caught vaping in those areas will now be subject to a fine of $100.
Cr Rohan Leppert said that he was “surprised” the council hadn’t had a larger debate on the topic due to the small number of submissions, however he was convinced by the evidence.
“It helps to avoid catching people out who don’t know the difference between the local law and the Tobacco Act, which is a lot of people, so it makes sense to harmonise the two,” Cr Leppert said.
“I was completely open to being persuaded otherwise, but on the basis of the strength of medical experts arguing in both directions I think the precautionary position is right.”
Although almost two thirds of submissions to the council supported banning vaping in the non-smoking precincts, some members of the community believe the ban will hinder smokers who are trying to quit via vaping.
Andrew Whittle, who recently quit smoking with the help of e-cigarettes, said he could not overstate the importance of vaping to him quitting smoking.
“I have tried patches, gums, cold turkey and had no success. It was only with vaping and nicotine-based e-liquid that I have not had a cigarette in three months,” he said.
“Most vapers understand that it is not completely harmless, but it’s been shown time and time again to be considerably safer than cigarettes.”
Civil Liberties Australia also questioned “the legal standing and legitimacy of local government to regulate the choice of citizens who ‘vape’ “.
“Restricting vaping in the Melbourne CBD would be an additional unjustified intrusion into
consumer free choice and autonomy,” the submission read.
“If council wishes to act on ‘preventative health grounds’, then it should bar vehicles using diesel fuel from the CBD 24/7, because incessant diesel particulate is proven more dangerous than smoking, let alone vaping.”
As an advocate of the ban, Quit Victoria director Sarah White rejected the claim that that vaping is 95 per cent safer than smoking cigarettes and said the public health evidence against vaping was “indisputable”.
“The tobacco industry and e-cigarette proponents rely heavily on the discredited claim that use of e-cigarettes is ‘95 per cent safer’ than using traditional cigarettes,” Dr White said.
“Smokefree spaces help smokers to quit, help prevent former smokers from relapsing back to smoking and ensure children do not view smoking as part of normal social behaviour.”
Taking into account the conflicting submissions, Cr Nicholas Reece said the debate over whether vaping was a gateway to smoking was a very complicated one and thus much like Cr Wood he “wouldn’t support a CBD-wide ban” at the moment.
“I have come to the view that [vaping] is not as harmful as smoking and there are scenarios where it can have a positive health impact on some individuals, particularly those who are addicted to smoking,” Cr Reece said.
“But I do support the ban because it’s only in those smoke-free areas of the city so it’s quite contained.”
The ban is now in effect as of August 6 •