Aussie workers are swapping smoking for vaping. Picture: iStock
Aussie workers are swapping smoking for vaping. Picture: iStock

Aussie work tradition dying out

In offices and worksites across the country, there's a surprising revolution taking place.

Today, more and more Australian workers are ditching cigarettes in favour of vaping, even though the legal status of e-cigarettes is still murky in this country.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration classifies nicotine as a "dangerous poison" and while it is legal to buy vaping equipment in Australia, nicotine must be imported from overseas.

But that hasn't stopped the popularity of vaping from soaring.

In 2016, there were 227,000 vapers in the country and that number is set to explode if full legalisation occurs - meaning the traditional "smoko" could soon be a thing of the past.

Ex-smoker Joanne Colbert - a nurse and mum-of-two from South Australia - is one of many Australians who have jumped on the vaping bandwagon.

She said that decision was saving her a fortune - and might also save her life.

The 40-year-old first took up smoking at 17 before kicking the habit more than two years ago after trying vaping.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration classifies nicotine as a ‘dangerous poison’ and it is an offence to sell the chemical unless a permit has been issued. Picture: iStock
The Therapeutic Goods Administration classifies nicotine as a ‘dangerous poison’ and it is an offence to sell the chemical unless a permit has been issued. Picture: iStock

Before that, she had tried every method under the sun - including patches, gum and cold turkey - to quit smoking, but after trying vaping with a starter kit, the thought and smell of smoking "repulsed" her within days.

Now she vapes on her break instead of smoking, and has also encouraged several colleagues to make the change as well.

She said she and her husband used to spend 20 per cent of their income, or $300 a week, on cigarettes - but that bill was now slashed to just $20.

And even better, these days Ms Colbert's health has also improved, with her blood pressure issues resolved.

"I used to go to the cigarette shop twice a week and spend $150 and not even think twice. I'm disgusted with myself that for 18 years I was a smoker," she said.

"A couple of my colleagues have also given up smoking - if it was legalised it would become 100 per cent more popular because the stigma would decrease.

"I would never recommend vaping to a non-smoker but it is a gateway to stopping smoking, so it's a win-win."

Ms Colbert said she was pleased she had been able to stop inflicting her "foul" cigarette habit on her children and her patients and said the government needed to step in and change the law regarding nicotine sales and vaping, as the situation was "blurry" and "frustrating".

Ex-smoker Joanne Colbert and her husband Christopher O’Connell could afford to take a cruise recently after ditching cigarettes. Picture: Supplied
Ex-smoker Joanne Colbert and her husband Christopher O’Connell could afford to take a cruise recently after ditching cigarettes. Picture: Supplied

The Australian government has so far resisted calls to reverse its tough nicotine stance as it says the jury is still out when it comes to the safety of vaping.

But according to Australian Vaping Advocacy Trade and Research chair Savvas Dimitriou, who kicked his own 10-year smoking habit within a week of taking up vaping, said lives were literally hanging in the balance.

"Australia is very far behind the rest of the world and there's no clear answer why, but there are people with very entrenched opinions in the public health system who refuse to look at the evidence, and people are dying in the meantime," he said.

"(Vaping) is absolutely one of the biggest public health opportunities of the last 60 years - I genuinely believe that - and almost every other country on the planet is making great strides to integrate it into public health policy, yet Australia has gone backwards.

"Anything that gets people to quit smoking is good for everybody - smokers, taxpayers and society in general."

Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association chair Dr Colin Mendelsohn told news.com.au that while Australia had historically achieved great results in cutting the smoking rate, it had now not declined since 2013.

He said the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey revealed nearly three million people, or 15.2 per cent of adults, were smokers - and that the smoking rate was far higher among disadvantaged communities and older people.

The traditional ‘smoko’ could soon become a thing of the past. Picture: iStock
The traditional ‘smoko’ could soon become a thing of the past. Picture: iStock

"Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Australia and we often think we've dealt with smoking, but we haven't - in other countries where vaping is legal, the smoking rates are falling at a much faster rate and there's growing evidence vaping is playing a major role in that," he said.

"Two-thirds of smokers will die from a smoking-related disease - that's how lethal it is - and vaping is an alternative for people who can't quit. It gives them nicotine without harmful chemicals, so it's a no-brainer.

"And for individual smokers it's a huge saving because vaping costs about 90 per cent less. We pay the highest cigarette prices in the world - a pack of Marlborough 20s costs $29 which is $10,000 in a year, but vaping is maybe $1000 a year."

Dr Mendelsohn said the evidence was clear that vaping could make a positive difference, but that Australia was ignoring that evidence as it had become a "political and ideological" issue.

Australian Medical Association President Dr Tony Bartone told 3AW's Neil Mitchell last year that there was "still a lot of work to be done on whether they [e-cigarettes] really do help people get off smoking".

"A lot of the evidence coming through now is showing that actually all it does is defer or delay the decision to actually come off cigarettes, and a lot of people go back to cigarettes while coming down to it," he said.

"But yes, we don't deny that it is less dangerous than smoking the actual real cigarettes, but it's about normalising the whole behaviour."

Dr Bartone said the concern over legalising the use of e-cigarettes was that the act of smoking the device "normalises the act of smoking and almost glamorises it to the young population coming through".


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