Australia is experiencing a historic surge in the number of smokers, despite having the “most expensive cigarette prices in the world.”
An analysis of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released Monday shows that the smoking rate did not decline in 2016 for the first time since officials began tracking records. The smoking population rose by 21,100 between 2013 and 2016 after years of massive declines, despite the country’s strict tax and regulatory restrictions on tobacco, reports The Australian.
Public health experts argue the tough measures are no longer influencing smokers to ditch the habit, and say policy makers need to shift tactics if they want to help the smoking population in the future.
“This is despite plain packaging and the most expensive cigarette prices in the world,” Colin Mendelsohn, an expert on public health at the University of New South Wales, told The Australian. “But we’re left with established, older smokers who can’t or won’t quit. The strategy of higher prices isn’t working for them.”
Health experts also note that the country continues to ban the possession and use of liquid nicotine, rendering e-cigarettes useless for smokers in Australia. Smokers looking to ditch cigarettes for a healthier alternative are legally allowed to buy vaping devices, but are barred from using the fluid necessary to successfully quit.
Doctors in the country and representatives of British American Tobacco addressed a federal parliamentary committee July 12 to highlight the health benefits of vaping and how continued restrictions harm overall public health.
“Australia is doing everything right in terms of tobacco control, but one key difference with the U.K. and U.S.A., where smoking rates have dropped, is our hostility to e-cigarettes,” Alex Wodak, director of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, told The Australian. “I do wonder about the law of diminishing returns with higher prices and whether that’s starting to apply here.”
Australian doctors note the positive impact that vaping has on a smoker’s health and reducing the risks of secondhand smoke.
Many smokers in the country are ignoring the law and using e-cigarettes to attempt quitting, but they still run the risk of getting into legal trouble. Vapers in Australia say they feel like their government is prosecuting them for making a health-conscious choice.
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