Business

Aussies want vapes, e-cigs legalised: poll

Anti-smoking advocates have dismissed a poll suggesting more than half of Australian adults want a ban on electronic cigarettes lifted.

Most Australians want electronic cigarettes legalised, according to a survey by the nation's peak retail body, but government and anti-smoking advocates maintain the devices might pose health risks.

The Australian Retail Association poll, conducted by the Crosby Textor Group, shows 61 per cent of 1200 adults backed a move towards legalising e-cigarettes or vaporisers, commonly known as vapes.

ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman called on the Turnbull government to follow the lead of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand by opening up the market.

"More and more Australians are buying personal vaporisers with nicotine online from overseas, simply because they can't buy them locally," Mr Zimmerman said in a statement on Monday.

"The government needs to act so that responsible local retailers can compete on a level playing field and sell less harmful products for Australians trying to change their habits."

The Cancer Council is sceptical of the survey, suggesting the ARA results are motivated by self-interest and urged power brokers not to be swayed by lobbyists.

"Public health policy decisions aren't based on opinion polls," tobacco issues committee chair Paul Grogan told AAP in a statement.

"Cancer Council supports the National Health and Medical Research Council's ongoing independent review of the risks and potential benefits of e-cigarettes and the Therapeutic Goods Administration's role in independently assessing any therapeutic benefit."

The survey outcome is unlikely to prompt an e-cigarettes policy rethink, with the federal government siding with the medical community.

"The minister strongly supports the decision made by the TGA to maintain the ban," a spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

"The overwhelming medical advice and evidence is that it's likely to lead to the uptake of smoking and we cannot support that."

The Cancer Council and Quit Victoria both agree the short and long-term impacts of using e-cigarettes, which simulate smoking without burning harmful tobacco, are unknown.

The adults surveyed, however, are more convinced they are a less dangerous alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes, with almost half believing vaporisers are safer.

Most ARA respondents (53 per cent) were also unaware or unsure of the existing law banning the sale and purchase of vaporisers.

The use of e-cigarettes increased across all age groups between 2013 and 2016, with 31 per cent of smokers trying them at least once, the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey shows.

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