Vaping’s a searing health debate

Fiona Patten

But what does vaping have to do with abortion clinic safety zones, the regulation of cannabis and other drugs, voluntary assisted dying, homelessness, and the frequently fabulous functioning of parliamentary committees comprised of ostensible opponents?  

Stick with me if you will. This is a two-pronged story of the legendary win-win.  

Reducing needless harm is one of the fundamental responsibilities of parliaments, along with promoting opportunity and prosperity.  

Surely, we can all agree on that. An oft-overlooked reality of democratic politics is we are united by much more than divides us.  

Harm reduction, equality of opportunity, and wealth generation all occupy the public policy sweet spot – an economically and socially beneficial combination of enlightened self-interest and simple human decency. Yep, the win-win.  

Two recent uplifting experiences are exemplary of such fair and balanced progress.  

The first: an international parliamentary trip that buttressed my faith that much can be readily done by communities and lawmakers to fix problems, even including some caused by lawmakers.  

The second: a broadcast from the Victorian Legislative Council that demonstrated people agree on so much more than we disagree, and how effective lawmakers can be when they seek compromise in good faith and based on evidence and tenets including transparency, accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness.  

I recently was an invited speaker at an international conference in Warsaw on vaping and harm reduction. It’s an issue we are far from properly resolving here.  

Smoking tobacco is the leading preventable cause of illness and premature death, and the harm reduction effects of vaping on this cohort are beyond dispute, the international evidence proves.  

But Australia, in contrast to other industrialised economies, is blocking adults from accessing a harm minimisation device that would probably save their lives and would certainly save taxpayers’ health resources.  

At the same time, there’s the worrying rise in the illegal use of vapes by children. This is a group not addicted to tobacco smoking. Properly apply existing laws to prevent them ready access to this evidently dangerous path is a no-brainer. Get on with it.  

After Poland, I visited Malta, England and Scotland, where innovative, effective, progressive policies are being implemented to allow people choice at end of life, legally access cannabis, provide affordable and safe shelter, and safety approaching abortion clinics. There is not room here for more than an overview, but there’s more on my website, should you wish to explore the policy issue.  

Malta has just joined the growing list of nations reducing drug harm through regulation, the rational response to evidence prohibition has failed disastrously.  

It’s an argument I’ve been making for years and on which the government has finally committed to act, should it be returned, by trailing at my behest blanket diversion to treatment and counselling, rather than an encounter with the criminal justice system, of all apprehended for possession of small amounts of illicit substances.  

The Malta model duplicates the recommendation that I put to the Inquiry into Cannabis which was voted down. 

A number of the places I visited are adopting effective solutions to homelessness, something we can do so much better on here, where the stock of public housing has halved in recent times and there’s insufficient collaboration between businesses, governments and the not-for-profit sector on social housing.  

Scotland has just announced that it will introduce law reflecting legislation I introduced here to create exclusion zones around abortion clinics.  

The second encouraging experience was a broadcast discussion, in moderated form, with other members of the Legislative Council’s Legal and Social Issues Committee, which I chair.  

Yes, it does perhaps sound as enticing as a migraine, but it was actually fabulous in a certain way: it shows anyone who genuinely cares about democracy to see the substance, not the froth, of our Parliament in action, the work behind the scenes.  

The encounter with deputy Chair Tien Kieu (Labor) and member Cathrine Burnett-Wake (Liberal) covered our collaborations on a range of legal and social issues facing Victorians, including homelessness, cannabis use, the criminal justice system, children of incarcerated parents and firearms prohibition legislation. We’ve had eight inquiries. Two more are set to end.  

We work together. We are supported by taxpayers’ resources. Committees are the crucible of good policy and law.  

But there’s scant coverage of most committee work. Too many media outlets coverage politics as blood sport, not the lifeblood of a nation.  

Good policy is good politics, and it comes from good faith. All round. Win-win-win. 

 

Fiona Patten MP is Leader of the Reason Party.  •

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