(Debate, 26 May 2015, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I support the Public Health (Tobacco) Amendment (E-cigarettes) Bill 2015, which bans the sale of electronic cigarettes and accessories to minors and, following government amendments, will reduce children's access to electronic cigarettes. The rapid escalation in the growth of the electronic cigarette market presents major challenges. I have a number of constituents who are smokers and who use electronic cigarettes to get their nicotine hit, particularly inside late night venues where going out to smoke could see them prevented from coming back in due to the lockouts. For this reason I understand some inner city venues are now selling electronic cigarettes behind the bar. I have a number of constituents who neither smoke nor use electronic cigarettes and are concerned about the health impacts of second-hand nicotine vapour from the growing use of electronic cigarettes in public. While I say their use is growing, we only have anecdotal evidence of this as we do not know how many users there are in New South Wales; evidence from overseas indicates an increase. Last year the Minister told me in response to my questions on notice in May that the 2014 Population Health Survey would collect information on e-cigarette use and I look forward to her providing information on this as it becomes available.
I share concerns about the use of electronic cigarettes and believe regulation is needed. It is appropriate to start by banning their sale to minors, but it will be difficult to ensure they do not get access to them. While new Government amendments will prevent children getting e-cigarettes from vending machines or from an adult, electronic cigarettes are widely available on the internet and I understand the online market is strong. It is easy to lie about one's age at online stores, and overseas retailers may not take adequate action to exclude under-age consumers. The sale and possession of liquid nicotine is illegal in New South Wales yet people buy it online, many unaware that they are doing something illegal. Addressing this challenge will require work with other jurisdictions.
There is no doubt from a quick Google search that electronic cigarette marketing is aimed at young people. Advertisements are reminiscent of tobacco campaigns from a bygone era with messages used to invoke glamour and individuality. Devices and vapour flavours are highly stylised. Flavours range from standard menthol or tobacco to slightly more designer, such as butter cookies and cinnamon apple; and to idiosyncratic cocktail mixes, such as "Goodship Lollipop", which is mixed candy and starburst, and "Velvet Elvis", which is sweet and tender gummi bears, bubblegum and skittles. I share the concern that laws should go further to prevent marketing of electronic cigarettes to minors. I support amendments proposed by the Opposition to limit the advertising, promotion and display of electronic cigarettes. There are claims that electronic cigarettes can help people quit smoking but this remains unproven. While State law bans the sale of e-cigarettes which make such claims, many smokers have come to believe that they can help them to quit and education is needed to inform people that this remains unproven. Interestingly, the big tobacco companies also own many electronic cigarette companies. The potential risks of electronic cigarettes have not been disproven. Could nicotine vapour devices normalise cigarette smoking? Could they worsen nicotine addiction, particularly if used in conjunction with tobacco smoking?
Of great concern are the reports that young people who do not smoke are taking up electronic cigarettes and may develop nicotine habits and addictions as a result. We do not know whether these people are likely to switch to smoking tobacco. We do not know the long-term impacts of prolonged use of electronic cigarettes. Nor do we know the impacts of exposure to second-hand nicotine vapour. Because there are no restrictions on where one can use devices as there are on tobacco smoke, the potential exposure to second-hand vapour is real.
I agree with the cautious approach taken by the Opposition and support its amendments to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes in public enclosed spaces. Protecting our smoke-free environments from nicotine vapour must be a priority. Most non-smokers will not want to breathe air contaminated with nicotine and other chemicals. Electronic cigarette components are not standardised and it is difficult to know what types and levels of chemicals are in them and how they affect health. I understand that there is also variability in vapour devices and have heard stories of faulty devices that have led to accidental ingestion of liquid, including liquid nicotine purchased online.
In response to my questions last year, the Minister for Health said that NSW Health was undertaking a hazard assessment of the use of electronic cigarettes, the potential impacts of inhaling particulate matter from emissions and chemicals found in liquids. I welcome this research and the Minister's commitment that regulation will be introduced where health impacts are identified. This bill is an important first step in regulating the use of electronic cigarettes, and I commend it to the House.