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Has Maurice Swanson's Strategy Gone Up In Smoke?

Updated: Aug 30, 2020

by Pippa Starr

August 30, 2020

Maurice G Swanson, CEO of

(Australian Council on Smoking and Health)

heads up their independent coalition, working with community, organisations and governments in the fight against tobacco.

As a seasoned campaigner against the harms of smoking for over 40 years his commitment to public health can't be questioned, or can it?

"He has played a critical role in the development of legislation, policy and public education campaigns on tobacco at state and national levels that has helped establish Western Australia’s reputation as a world leader in tobacco control." according to his bio. However his relentless attacks on safer alternatives on offer that see people get off the smokes seems suspiciously like he is guarding what he regards as "his turf" being tobacco harm reduction.

Let's look at this through Maurice's eyes for a moment. He has fought hard pushing public health boundaries for 4 decades then along comes a revolutionary solution to tobacco harm reduction that he could either embrace or fight against. He has been belted with propaganda that vaping with ecigs isn't any good and he just believes it. Rather than sitting down to discuss the issue with those that have more knowledge, he chooses to relentlessly exhibit distain for alternatives and even goes as far to block many people on his twitter account that disagree with him.

Generally speaking, when people take on careers like Maurice's, they either pace along with a structured plan of advancement or hit the ground running and pushing boundaries. The later can no doubts lead to career fatigue, especially over 40 years. At the end of the marathon the last thing you want to deal with is something else in the way that challenges you. You just want to cross the finish line.

It's unfortunate timing for Maurice that towards the end of his marathon career, he seems to be pushing science aside as he heads to the finish line. Maurice should hold his head high as he has significantly contributed to help reduce smoking figures in WA along with his team of anti-smoking extremists.

Once again, his relentless push back on science was on exhibition last week in the "NT News" publication as he replied to a positive article based on current science by another very experienced tobacco harm reduction specialist Dr Colin Mendelsohn.

Take a look at what Dr Colin Mendelsohn's article:

Now consider Maurice G Swanson's reply:

As you read further you will see many former smokers are beyond frustrated with Maurice's naive approach that seemingly has lost all regard to wanting to consider any other alternatives to the tobacco harm reduction problem that is seeing the rates of decline slower than they have been for over 20 years.

Below is one published response that was part of a rally of support for not only the positive manor of Dr' Mendelsohn's original article, but also from the latest science based activists in this newer struggle for tobacco harm reduction.

A representative from "Tobacco Harm Reduction Consumers NT" forwarded this consumer response as well:

"I read Maurice G Swanson's letter in NT News and was absolutely dismayed that he has incorrectly reported on almost ALL aspects of vaping nicotine. I would refer you to England and New Zealand as examples of countries where vaping is actively encouraged for smokers wanting to quit deadly cigarettes.

New Zealand is embracing vaping not, as Mr. Swanson states, curbing it. The net gain in public health in the Northern Territory would be huge if vaping nicotine was made freely available to all ADULT smokers and ex-smokers that have switched to vaping. As an ex-smoker who now vapes nicotine, I am much healthier and have no ill effects from vaping.

The harms Mr. Swanson mentions relate to in-vitro and mice studies and do not compare vaping with smoking. Where proper science (as opposed to bad science where papers had to be retracted), has been conducted in people, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of vaping. While there is some risk to vaping (estimated 95% safer than smoking), it is small and should be employed as a harm reduction tool.

Despite Mr. Swanson's alarming reference to the increase in teen vaping, this contradicts the data. In the latest Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey done in 2019, 1.8% of 14 - 17-year-olds were vaping. In terms of addiction, nicotine by itself (as opposed to in cigarettes), has never been shown to be addictive, hence the TGA has approved all types of nicotine replacement products.

While there may be dependence, this has been shown to be similar to dependence on caffeine. Mr. Swanson is doing a great disservice to the Northern Territory by his callous rejection of this life saving harm reduction tool." IF VAPING IS NOT THE ANSWER, WHAT IS?

As you can see, the new wave of tobacco harm reduction activists are emerging, seemingly butting heads with those who at the end of the day just want the same thing, to see smoking in Australia become history.

Seasoned anti-smoking activists have done an amazing job in this country to apply the blow torch on our various levels of governments to curb the levels of health burden in this great country of ours. They have worked tirelessly and, in some cases, have even extended themselves to break the law by defacing cigarette advertising billboards and subsequently been arrested and charged.

Sure, that was a long time ago, but it exhibits the conviction to the extremely noble cause of some anti-smoking campaigners that endure today. There are a select few like Maurice, that have been campaigning for a smoke free Australia for many decades now and the last thing they want to see is their life’s work seemingly go up in smoke.

Understandably, it seems that while their conviction to the cause is clearly a noble one, many of these vintaged stalwarts like Maurice G Swanson that are either retired, semi-retired or about to retire fear the loss of relevance of their lifes’s great work and seeing it going up in smoke, while the new generation of problem solvers come into the market place spruiking their “95% safer” e-cigarettes.

It seems that time has surpassed their ability to comprehend newer technologies that are the smoking equivalents that the seat belt, motorcycle helmet and automotive airbags were in their lifetime. Most readers would agree those inventions were necessary and while there was some push back in that era, it has been mild compared to the push back of embracing e-cigarettes in the NT and Australia.

The facts are, in the last 3 years, smoking rates for Australian women have not declined, indigenous smoking rates are at an appalling 43.4% and Australia’s overall smoking rates have slowed 3x worse than the USA and 2.5x worse than the UK over the last 3 years.

The 70’ and 80’s models of creating smoking decline, where we saw Mark “Jacko” Jackson slamming down giant inflatable cigarettes and seeing cool influencers singing “Bag the Fag” on our TV screens may have been a good idea back then, but it’s time to let go and hand this noble cause over to the new generation, to assist the remaining smoking population (over 11%) in Australia to quit the very expensive and addictive cigarettes.

Maurice Swanson wrote about New Zealand where they are serious about making smoking history by 2025, referring to some little bit of push back in 2015. The fact is New Zealand have embraced the harm reduction of e-cigarettes for adults, as has the UK where smoking declines are the best they have seen in decades. They are even sold in hospitals there now, along with supportive government funded programs to assist smokers in quitting with e-cigarettes.

Mr Swanson referred to there being no TGA submissions for an e-cigarette. The fact is, it is a very expensive and convoluted process with a highly unlikely chance of approval as the halls of the TGA are lined by frailing think tanks that appear to refuse harm reduction strategies from people who don’t represent a big pharmaceuticals company.

It leaves very little opportunity for small business.

Even Big Tobacco has struggled with the TGA recently. This was clearly exhibited only a couple of weeks ago with the TGA’s rejection of big tobacco’s muti billion dollar safer than smoking “Heat not burn” product that was recently approved by the US FDA for open sale. How would a small business stand a chance?

We can't remove the daily tolls of harm, on our roads, in our workplaces, and in many facets of our lives but we can reduce harm. We see that in our daily lives as we wear our seat belts in front of our airbags while wearing hi viz shirts to work and pass cyclists in green painted safety lanes wearing helmets.

Surely now it's past time to embrace a 95% less harmful alternative in this country as the UK & NZ have as they get serious about making smoking history.

Isn't it past time Australia got serious too?


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