Prevention news wrap

7 August 2017

By Helen Signy, Senior Communications Officer

The great vape debate

The vaping debate

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that anti-smoking advocates are accusing the industry of using the same ‘astro-turfing’ tactics to convince the Government to legalise e-cigarettes containing nicotine, by encouraging smokers and vapers to contact politicians with submissions supporting the move.

Astro-turfing refers to creating the illusion there is a large grassroots movement in support of the industry’s view. The article reports that nearly all the submissions to the Federal Government’s inquiry into the use and marketing of electronic cigarettes and personal vaporisers in Australia are strongly pro-vaping, and that many of them follow the same “personal story” template.

Nevertheless, the vaping debate is heating up, with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists breaking ranks with most Australian medical and public health organisations to support nicotine e-cigarettes to protect the health of people with mental illness. It’s a view reportedly shared by Dr Alex Wodak, head of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation.

And University of NSW public health academic and tobacco treatment specialist, Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn, offers this strong argument for the introduction of vaping to help smokers quit.

In the US, meanwhile, the FDA has announced plans to slash nicotine in cigarettes to a non-addictive level, while at the same time increasing regulation of e-cigarettes.

Is cancer a disease of the poor?

The UK has finally moved to introduce its national tobacco plan, seeking to reduce the ‘inequality gap’ and a nine-year difference in the life expectancy of the richest and poorest Brits by reducing smoking rates to no more than 12% by 2022.

British public health experts blame up to half of the health equity problem on smoking. It’s an issue shared worldwide, where smoking increasingly leads to chronic diseases in the poor, less educated and marginalised. The Guardian documents in this excellent feature how big tobacco is targeting these groups in the United States, while Cosmos looks at research into how we can break the nexus between poverty and cancer. Meanwhile a study by the NHS has found that children from the poorest areas of Scotland are twice as likely to be at risk of obesity when they start school as those from the most affluent areas.

General inequity in Australia’s health system was thrust centre stage recently with the release of a report by the Commonwealth Fund, ranking Australia as second only to the UK in the performance of its health system, but ranking us very poorly on equity. You can read an explainer on the significance of the report by Dr Lesley Russell of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, writing recently in Croakey.

Why we need a food policy

The Prevention Centre’s nutrition expert Professor Amanda Lee’s contribution to the food policy debate continued with this article in Croakey on Australia’s food and nutrition policy vacuum, and a more general piece in The Sydney Morning Herald on how garbage food became the new normal. She also commented on new research, featured in this article in the Conversation, looking at how Indigenous child health improves when fruit and vegetables are cheap.

The forgotten risk factor for chronic disease: loneliness

The shocking death from starvation and dehydration of an 81-year-old blind and immobile woman in Sydney after her husband and carer died of natural causes threw the spotlight on loneliness as a preventable risk factor for ill health.

Britain’s Red Cross has recently announced a raft of new services to tackle loneliness and social isolation, based on new research showing that loneliness can become chronic and can contribute to poor health and pressure on public services.

This article in the New Scientist explains our innate need for connection with other humans for physical and mental health, while this fascinating blog in Psychology Today examines the psychology behind loneliness (it has less to do with the size of our social networks than our ability to engage in meaningful social interactions). And don’t miss the New Republic’s take on the lethality of loneliness.