Health groups welcome new tobacco laws for Victoria

Friday 14 October, 2016

Leading Victorian health groups have welcomed new laws to bring waterpipes into line with other tobacco products, so that smoking them indoors will no longer be permitted from August 1 next year.

A loophole in Victorian laws has meant that waterpipes (also known as hookah or shisha) can be smoked indoors at cafés and restaurants, despite other forms of smoking being banned in enclosed workplaces since 2006.

The change was included in the Tobacco Amendment Bill 2016 which has passed through the Victorian Parliament. Also included in the Bill were measures to regulate electronic cigarettes, and the introduction of smokefree outdoor dining in Victoria.

A waterpipe (also known as hookah or shisha) is a device for vaporising and smoking flavoured tobacco, in which the vapour or smoke is passed through a water basin before inhalation. In an average waterpipe session, a smoker inhales an amount of tar roughly equivalent to smoking 25 cigarettes.

Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White commended members of the Victorian Parliament’s Upper House for moving the amendment on waterpipes, which will bring Victoria into line with every other Australian state and territory where smoking waterpipes in enclosed workplaces is already prohibited.

“This amendment will ensure that staff and customers are not exposed to secondhand smoke from waterpipes, which contain many of the same toxins as cigarette smoke including carbon monoxide, nicotine and heavy metals,” Dr White said.

“I want to particularly acknowledge cardiologist Dr Walid Ahmar, President of the Australian Lebanese Medical Association, who has been instrumental in raising awareness about the harms of waterpipes and the cross-cultural support that exists for this change.”

Dr White also welcomed measures to regulate e-cigarettes, including banning sales to minors, preventing their use in smokefree areas and banning their advertising and promotion at point of sale.

“The introduction of some basic safeguards around e-cigarettes is a great first step. These changes mean it will no longer be legal for children to purchase e-cigarettes,’’ Dr White said.

Concerns remain about the devices still being available for purchase by adults, with the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Medical Association, Cancer Council Australia and Heart Foundation all calling for them to be completely banned.

The groups’ joint position is that any e-cigarette should be approved by Australia’s regulatory authority, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, if there is sufficient evidence for it to be approved as a cessation aid.

Cancer Council Victoria chief executive Todd Harper said the introduction of smokefree outdoor dining would help protect customers and staff from secondhand smoke at Victorian eateries.

“I think we will also see outdoor drinking areas become smokefree in time because it's what the majority of Victorians want,” Mr Harper said.

Heart Foundation Victoria chief executive Kellie-Ann Jolly agreed and said smokefree areas were also important to support people who have quit smoking.

“The new smokefree outdoor dining laws are good news for staff, patrons and people who have or are trying to quit,” Ms Jolly said.

“The new changes will also show our children that smoking is not a necessary part of socialising outdoors. This is critical as most smokers take up the habit before the age of 18.”