It's no secret that Tasmania has a smoking problem. The evidence around the dangers of smoking have been known for many years. Yet, strategic campaigns to reduce tobacco use in the community have had mixed success, at best.
Yes, smoking rates have declined - nationally from 22.3 per cent in 2001 to 13.8 per cent in 2017-18. But still, statistics show tobacco use contributed to 21,000 Australian deaths in 2015 alone - or more than one in eight. Sadly, Tasmania's smoking rate remains second highest (behind the Northern Territory) at 17.6 per cent. Areas of socio-economic disadvantage are also linked with some of the worst smoking rates.
But for many smokers, nicotine based e-cigarettes have proven useful in their efforts to break the habit of cigarette smoking. For some, they are seen as a better alternative with fewer health risks, or "the lesser of two evils".
However, while the devastating health impacts of tobacco are now (mostly) undisputed, research concerning the safety of vaping remains comparatively limited and largely conflicting. Further, there is also evidence of non-smokers being introduced to nicotine through vaping for the first time.
When the federal government announced its plan to implement a ban on the importation of e-cigarettes containing vaporiser nicotine from July 1, it was met with a strong response.
While welcomed by peak health bodies such as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian Medical Association, pro-vaping groups labelled it reckless to impose a ban so soon, and without proper consultation. Many argued it would force vapers back to smoking and make it harder for people to quit altogether.
The ban has now been delayed by six months to January 1, while allowing more time to implement a streamlined process for patients to obtain a prescription through their GP. The Therapeutic Goods Administration will also undertake a formal review and consultation process regarding the classification of nicotine in the Poisons Standard.
In the meantime, there are renewed calls for further investment into research exploring the impacts of vaping on the body. After-all, smoking is legal, but is known to kill millions. Nicotine vaping is illegal, without a prescription from a medical practitioner, but the evidence around the short and longterm health impacts remain limited.
So as calls for Australia to "catch up" to the rest of the Western World and legalise vaping grow louder, the government must ensure its decisions are informed. One of the best ways to do this is through medical research. After all, few people will argue vaping isn't bad for you, but where's the proof?