Tougher smoking bans are here, but it’s also time to lift bans on e-cigarettes

By Pat Sheil

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

Hopefully there won’t be a repeat of last week’s prison riot in Melbourne, but there will be many disgruntled smokers in the pubs and cafes of NSW on Monday as smoking bans are broadened to include all dining and most outdoor areas.

It is already illegal to smoke indoors in a public house, but from Monday, it will also be against the law to smoke in any outdoor area where food is served or consumed, and within four metres of any doorway leading into the venue in question. For all but the largest establishments, this is effectively a total smoking ban.

Publicans have been dreading this day for months, preparing themselves and their staff to enforce a prohibition that, while no doubt a welcome development for non-smoking al fresco diners, has some unexpected implications.

In Queensland, where similar bans gave been in force for some years, most pubs are almost big enough to have their own postcodes, and have been able to designate smoking zones far enough over the horizon that nobody is annoyed by wafts of incinerated tobacco. But the legislation not only forbids smoking in an outdoor dining area, but eating in an outdoor smoking area.

True – a smoker north of the Tweed cannot take a sandwich into a pub’s smoking zone, lest he annoy himself while consuming it.

Such minor absurdities aside, Queensland smokers seem to have copped it sweet. The extra acreage makes the ban easier for most publicans to deal with, and even an addict such as myself can see the point in not smoking next to someone enjoying their lunch. It’s been coming a long time, and today’s the day.

But here is where the grey areas come in. When I say that I’m an addict, that’s true enough. But I don’t smoke. I converted to electric cigarettes two years ago, along with thousands of others who were sick of paying a fortune to inhale carcinogens in order to get the nicotine that we’re actually after.

And the grey area? Well, it’s not even grey – it’s black and white.

You see, it is not illegal to use electric cigarettes under the new regulations, or indeed under existing regulations. The NSW Department of Health is quite clear on this point.

This is from the Department’s Electronic Cigarettes Fact Sheet:  “The use of electronic cigarettes, whether they contain nicotine or not, is not against the law under the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 (NSW). This means it is not against the law to use them in indoor and outdoor public places where it is against the law to smoke. This does not prevent individual establishments and workplaces from developing their own policies to ban patrons and staff using electronic cigarettes on their premises.”

I very much doubt that many NSW publicans will be rushing to put up “No e-cigs allowed” signs in their beer gardens. Quite the reverse – publicans I’ve spoken too are breathing easier at the news.

Me too. I’ve been breathing much easier since I gave up tobacco, rules or no rules. Not that you can legally purchase electronic cigarettes in NSW. Not the ones that contain nicotine, that is. But there’s no law forbidding you from ordering them online from overseas, which is what e-cig users do.

So it strikes me as utterly ludicrous that under current legislation, if I want nicotine, I have to buy it mixed with the extremely dangerous cancer-causing substances that make up tobacco, and tobacco smoke.

This is an historical anomaly, of course, and undoing the traditional marketing of addictive drugs is always a fraught business. Prohibition is usually a disastrous policy, so the current approach of allowing addicts access, while restricting their ability to harm others, makes sense on the face of it.

But as far as I know, nicotine is the one addictive substance that can only be legally purchased when in conjunction with poisonous chemicals.

I never tried to justify the stink of smoking when I did smoke. I don’t think anyone has to the right to blow malodorous fumes into other folk’s faces, any more than my next-door neighbour has a right to play rap music at 500 watts at 3am.

So electronic cigarettes have been a godsend.

No smell. No litter. No carcinogens. No ugly stains on face and fingers. No shortness of breath. All materials fully recyclable. No complaints from non-smoking friends, partners, diners, or fellow commuters.

And because they’re illegal to sell in NSW, no tobacco excise, no GST, and delivered to your home by courier at a fraction of the cost of a carton of smokes.

Which leaves a lot of money in one’s pocket to buy a cold drink, sit in a sunny beer garden and enjoy a quiet puff, without annoying a soul.

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