Vaping ban divides the community

By Tamara Clark

The City of Melbourne has unanimously passed a motion proposing a ban on e-cigarettes and vaping in selected areas throughout the city. 

The move comes after councillors voted in favour of a motion to amend council’s local law to align with the Tobacco Act 1987 by including vaping using an e-cigarette at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on May 5. 

The proposed amendment to the council’s Local Law will now go through a public consultation process, before councillors have the final vote on the ban later this year.

“The proposed changes aim to strengthen our existing smoke-free initiatives by further protecting children and young people from accessing, using and being exposed to e-cigarettes,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.

“The National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy believe that there is insufficient evidence that e-cigarettes have a role as cessation aids, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration has not assessed e-cigarettes for use as a method to withdraw from smoking.”

Cr Capp said that the amendment meant using an e-cigarette was now defined as “smoking” and would be banned in existing and future smoke-free areas, such as Bourke Street Mall.  

However, the move by the council has been met with widespread criticism from many in the community, with Reason Party leader Fiona Patten stating, “vaping isn’t smoking” and that councillors were misinformed about vaping. 

“I am concerned that the council has been misinformed on the issue and that a ban will do more harm than good,” she said. “The council needs to listen to what the experts are saying – that vaping is a significant help for those trying to quit.”

“There is no reasonable case for banning vaping on health grounds as there is no evidence of risk from passive vaping. The UK Royal College of Physicians, which have been a leader in research on this issue, agreed declaring that so far there is, ‘no direct evidence that passive exposure is likely to cause significant harm’.”

Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn from the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and School of Public Health and Community Medicine at University of New South Wales, also wrote to councillors asking them to postpone the decision until they were armed with all the facts.

 “Smoking remains a high public health priority and is the leading preventable cause of death in Australia,” Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn said. “All methods to help smokers to quit should be encouraged. Banning vaping in smoke-free areas sends a message that vaping is as harmful as smoking and will discourage smokers from switching to vaping.”

The council received a number of submissions opposing the move, with many asking for scientific proof that vaping is as bad for you as smoking and questioning whether the amendment was “about health or money making”.

“The City of Melbourne values the health and wellbeing of the community, particularly during and following the current coronavirus pandemic, which is why we are considering this proposal to strengthen our smoke-free policy,” the Lord Mayor said.

“Revenue is not and has never been a consideration for implementing smoking bans in the City of Melbourne,” she said. “Our emphasis is on educating people about our smoke-free areas, not fining them. In 2019 we issued 19 fines for smoking in a smoke-free area across all City of Melbourne smoke-free zones.” •

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