NSW looking to ban e-cigarettes from smoke-free areas. What’s the big deal?

Once touted as a traditional cigarette replacement on the road to quitting the nicotine habit ‘electronic cigarettes’ or e-cigarettes as they are more commonly known has developed  a bad reputation.  ABC news reported on Thursday that support is growing for New South Wales to join five other Australian states (ACT, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia) in banning the use of e-cigarettes in smoke-free public areas where currently only traditional burned cigarettes are outlawed. So what are e-cigarettes and are they as harmful to the user and bystanders as traditional cigarettes?

What are e-cigarettes

Both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes do share one very common trait, the heating of the consumed material to make either smoke or vapor. E-cigarettes, instead of using smoldering or fire to burn the solid material implement an electronic heating element within  the device to vaporize a liquid thereby allowing that liquid to enter the user’s lungs much the same as traditional tobacco smoke. Proponents say that e-cigarettes are less harmful to both the user by eliminating the secondary chemicals normally found in traditional cigarettes and to those affected by traditionally passive smoke as the e-cigarette is less likely to transmit harmful chemicals throughout a space. The latter fact is what is being debated regarding the smoke-free e-cigarette ban.

Traditional cigarette risks versus e-cigarettes

Traditionally burned cigarettes have been widely studied and their harmful health effects well known. The American Cancer Society warns that there could be as many as 70 harmful chemicals in cigarettes which could lead to cancer when burned and inhaled. The same site does state that there are chemicals known to be contained in e-cigarettes which could contribute to cancer formation, however the biggest risk in e-cigarettes is the current lack of regulation and control on the ingredients, both type and quantity, which means that it is difficult to quantify their effects. A publication by New South Wales Health agrees with the American Cancer Society that there are a wide variety of levels of harmful chemicals, including nicotine, in unregulated levels within various e-cigarettes without accurate labeling. Additionally, e-cigarettes could also contain other by-products such as heavy metals which are used in the heating elements of the device. The take-home message for users of e-cigarettes is that there is an inherent danger as the e-cigarette market is mostly unregulated allowing for a range of chemicals, both listed and unlisted, to be included in the liquid active ingredients. This range of chemicals could lead to both short and long-term health effects.

The New South Wales Health fact sheet also state that there is a risk of exposure for people in the immediate vicinity of users of e-cigarettes, known as exposure to second-hand smoke. Again research into second-hand smoke with traditional cigarettes have been widely studied; and this has led to the smoke-free bans seen here in Australia and world-wide to protect non-smokers from the effects. The study into second-hand smoke amongst e-cigarettes and the effect on those around smokers is not as clear cut.

Second-hand e-cigarette smoke research and opinion

A systematic review of the effects of second-hand smoke from e-cigarettes was published by the Public Health Research and Practice group in 2016. The review looked at scholarly articles published between 1996 and 2015 regarding the study of this subject. The results showed that there were particles of nicotine, harmful chemicals similar to traditional cigarettes and heavy metals found within the vicinity of the e-cigarettes. However, the levels of these chemicals were much less. Additionally, the spread of these chemicals was overall less as the authors concluded the exhalation of traditional cigarette smoke could spread the airborne chemicals further than e-cigarettes. However, this study concluded similar results to those listed above that regulation of e-cigarette ingredients and concentrations of those ingredients have led to poor research outcomes.

The ‘vaping’ community has weighed in on this topic. The website “Vaped: by Totally Wicked” has stated:

Though studies are still ongoing on this topic, those that have been done so far strongly indicate that passive vaping poses little danger, if any. In fact, what they have managed to show thus far is that passive vaping is a non-existent problem, with ‘no apparent risk to human health from e-cigarette emissions based on the compounds analysed.’

The study linked to this statement was published in 2012 by the journal Inhaled Toxicology. While I did not have access to the article the synopsis did state that

For all byproducts measured, electronic cigarettes produce very small exposures relative to tobacco cigarettes. The study indicates no apparent risk to human health from e-cigarette emissions based on the compounds analyzed.

The issue is that the study used four e-cigarette liquids and compared to traditionally burned cigarettes. As the discussion has indicated previously there is widespread variation in chemical inclusions and concentrations as well as a lack of clear labelling which makes any comparison impossible. Therefore, research into the effects of passive smoke cannot be generalized at this point.

Another blog site, Vaping 360, lists a 2016 report prepared by the Royal College of Physicians entitled “Nicotine without smoke Tobacco harm reduction” which discussed the use of e-cigarettes as nicotine-replacement- alternatives and how traditional tobacco companies were attempting to gain ground in this market within the UK. The Vaping 360 cite quoted:

Users of e-cigarettes exhale the vapour, which may therefore be inhaled by others, leading to passive exposure to nicotine. There is, so far, no direct evidence that such passive exposure is likely to cause significant harm, although one study has reported levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that were outside defined safe-exposure limits. It is clear that passive exposure will vary according to fluid, device and the manner in which it is used. Nicotine from exhaled vapour can be deposited on surfaces, but at such low levels that there is no plausible mechanism by which such deposits could enter the body at doses that would cause physical harm.

Nicotine-replacement legislation in Australia

But the debate over second-hand smoke and e-cigarettes could be moot here in Australia. According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) the use of e-cigarettes for nicotine-replacement are illegal.

In all Australian states and territories, it is an offence to manufacture, sell or supply nicotine as an S7 poison without a licence or specific authorisation. This means e-cigarettes containing nicotine cannot be sold in any Australian state or territory. There are several reported instances where individuals have been charged with the illegal supply of liquid nicotine for use in e-cigarettes in Queensland.16,17

A recent clarification from the Federal Department of Health has advised that nicotine can be imported by an individual for use as an unapproved therapeutic good (eg a smoking cessation aid), but the importer must hold a prescription from an Australian registered medical practitioner and only import 3 months’ supply at any one time. The total quantity imported in 12 months cannot exceed 15 months’ supply of the product at the maximum dose recommended by the manufacturer.18 Most current consumers are unlikely to visit medical practitioners for a prescription of products that are readily available over the internet. The purchase and possession of nicotine by individuals are not regulated by Commonwealth legislation except for importation as allowed under Commonwealth law.

Non-nicotine e-cigarettes are not regulated, according to the RACGP site, however if they are not specifically for nicotine-replacement therapy then their use is purely recreational and should be subject to concerns raised by state governments and health authorities as to the additive chemicals and the effects of those chemicals on non-users within the immediate vicinity. Therefore, with no specific medical need for e-cigarettes the health concerns of second-hand smoke should outweigh the desire to have a cigarette-substitute in public and should be banned.

What does all of this mean for e-cigarette use in public?

So what does this mean for Australia, and specifically New South Wales, in the debate over e-cigarettes? The debate, to me, is quite simple. E-cigarettes in Australia at this point cannot contain nicotine as per Commonwealth law. Therefore, they cannot be considered as a replacement to traditional cigarettes as has been touted elsewhere in the world. That also means they have no medical necessity to users. Non-nicotine e-cigarettes at this point are legal, however there are a number of chemicals used in various e-cigarettes which can be as harmful as in traditional cigarettes to individuals standing within close proximity to the user. Additionally, chemicals used in e-cigarettes are not regulated so the quantities and types of chemicals contained do not need to be listed. While e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes there is still a risk of passive second-hand exposure. So there seems to be no reason why the state government should not join the five other states in outlawing e-cigarette use in smoke-free locations throughout the state.

Your thoughts? Until next time,





ABC News- E-cigarette ban in smoke-free areas of NSW attracts Government support


Web MD- The Vape Debate: What You Need to Know


American Cancer Society- Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Products


New South Wales- Are electronic cigarettes and e-liquids safe?http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/tobacco/Factsheets/e-cigs-are-they-safe.pdf

Centers for Disease Control- Secondhand Smoke (SHS) Facts


Public Health Research and Practice- A systematic review of the health risks from passive exposure to electronic cigarette vapour


Vaped: by Totally Wicked- SHOULD YOU WORRY ABOUT PASSIVE VAPING?http://www.totallywicked-eliquid.co.uk/vaped/passive-vaping/

Inhaled Toxicology- Comparison of the effects of e-cigarette vapor and cigarette smoke on indoor air quality.


Vaping 360- Is second hand vapor harmful?


Royal College of Physicians- Nicotine without smoke: Tobacco harm reduction



Where do doctor’s prescriptions end and pharmacists dispensing begin?

An article in news.com.au on Tuesday ( the 24th) has brought up an interesting question in my mind, where does the line exist between pharmacy dispensing of medications and requiring a doctor’s prescription?

The article describes the debate over restricting medications containing codeine to prescription-only, requiring patients wanting these medications to see their doctor’s first before obtaining the drug. The Thearputic Goods Administration was indicating a change in codeine-related products from pharmacy-dispensed to prescription in 2016, although debate over the issue is heading up as the deadline for the change is February next year.


Pharmacy representatives state this would affect the quality of analgesic care for patients by requiring them to see their doctor first. Physician groups are stating that low-dose codeine found in these medications show on therapeutic benefit, and the restriction would prevent misuse. Politicians are stuck in the middle in wanting to satisfy both sides.

So what is the issue with codeine? It is addictive and potentially harmful in high doses. Codeine is an opiate, an analgesic similar to Morphine. Therefore, its properties of pain relief can lead to addiction if misused. The Sydney Morning Herald stated that 12% of Australians surveyed exceeded the recommended daily dose of analgesic medications containing codeine. While the codeine dose is quite small the issue with this worrying fact is the potential for overdosing on paracetamol and ibuprofen; both have potentially toxic effects if too much is in the human body. An article by NPS Medwise has shown that when codeine has been consumed to lethal levels, although being accidental in nature, the number of deaths are double that of deaths related to stronger prescription medication such as morphine.

So why take it away from pharmacists hands? Simply control and monitoring. Even in my role within a public hospital I see frequently patients who travel from one hospital to another asking for pain relief, sometimes discharging and presenting to multiple hospitals in the course of a day. I am sure that most pharmacists are very conscientious and ethically-responsible people. However, a patient could approach one pharmacy let’s say in the morning and buy a codeine-related product, and then travel to a completely different area in the afternoon approach another for more product. This individual may not even intend to do this, instead they may work in the city and travel from home in a completely different area by public transport. The second pharmacist would not have knowledge of the previous purchase and therefore would not question the transaction.

A doctor’s prescription requires individuals to physically see a doctor. A record of the prescriptions would exist and could be tracked. Additionally, higher consumption could trigger the doctor to investigate the reasons for the increased usage and try to eliminate the cause of pain in the first place.


 While I have no issue with pharmacists as I think they are very competent and ethical practitioners I do support the moving the responsibility of codeine release from pharmacists to doctors.  Codeine is an opiate, and most opiates (along with other analgesics of similar strength) are classified as schedule eight restricted due to their addictive properties. The low doses of codeine and the toxic properties of the main ingredients (paracetamol and ibuprofen) mean that overdosing on these over-the-counter medications can lead to serious health consequences. Finally, as I stated above requiring a prescription can then lead a doctor to investigate, and hopefully treat, the source of pain rather than continuing to mask it through analgesics.

What do you think of codeine-related products requiring a prescription? Does it even matter to you?

Until next time,


News.com.au- MPs push to water down ban on codeine sales without prescription

New Scientist- Australia bans non-prescription codeine to fight opioid crisis

Therapeutic Goods Administration- Update on the proposal for the rescheduling of codeine products

Sydney Morning Herald- More than 2 million Australians exceeding recommended medicine dosage, worrying doctors

NPS Medwise- Codeine-related deaths: a cause for concern

Can too much weed kill you?


The idea for this post came from a Facebook friend who indicated they were concerned about the US’s recent push to legalize marijuana, particularly in light of the chances of death from an overdose. Myself and another ED colleague had never heard of a death resulting from THC. So off to research I went.

Scouring the search engines I could find no credible evidence to say overdosing on marijuana has, in fact, been attributed to a death. Having too much marijuana can cause a number of unwanted conditions within the body which can make you VERY uncomfortable:

  • Temporary feelings of paranoia, fear and anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pupil dilation
  • Vomiting and/or nausea
  • Fast heart rate
  • Shaking that is hard to control, feeling cold
  • Disorientation or hallucinations
  • Hangover

But these symptoms are also common with other illicit and legal drugs, such as alcohol. Studies have shown that a person would have to receive a massive amount of THC, the active high-producing ingredient in marijuana, to die from it- this would equate to pounds being used at a time. Very unlikely.

So marijuana is harmless?

Not so fast! The question is whether you can die from a single overdose of marijuana. But just like other chemicals that humans used for pleasure marijuana can have serious effects which could indirectly lead to death. It is these items I think many are talking about when they discuss the dangers of marijuana consumption.

A report from Colorado USA where marijuana is legal has found that traffic fatalities with drivers showing marijuana in their system at the time of the accident rose by 154%! Hospital presentations were also mentioned as increasing due to marijuana consumption, however the evidence was not clear that marijuana definitely had an impact. School suspensions from marijuana use were also mentioned.

Marijuana also has shown long-term health affects in terms of memory and brain function. There can also be secondary effects from smoking the drug and there are associated birth defects when women who are pregnant use marijuana.

The bottom line…

The actual THC in marijuana can kill you if consumed in large enough quantities. However, obtaining and using those quantities will either land you in jail for a very long time or be practically impossible. There are no known attributed cases to anyone dying from consumption of marijuana.

However, there are dangers in misuse of marijuana. As with all other chemicals consumed by individuals to obtain a euphoric state marijuana can alter a person’s functioning and cause health concerns. Therefore, any use of this or any other substance must be done so with full knowledge of the effects. And there it goes without saying a careful review of current laws on consumption in your area.

Should it be legal?

The eternal debate in modern society. Like other legal substances marijuana has very negative side-effects both short and long term, however that has not stopped tobacco and alcohol from remaining legal. Some would argue that it is a ‘gateway’ drug and could lead to greater abuse. However we do not know the numbers of individuals who use marijuana and never progress to harder drugs, so how can we really know? Like alcohol marijuana can impair a person’s driving and other complex and fine motor skills. So policies and laws would need to be put in place outlining legal limits on consumption and operation.

There is growing credible evidence that marijuana is beneficial to relieving pain and other neurological symptoms. Therefore, I think it’s use as a medical alternative to stronger and harsher medications is welcomed. Especially if those with severe and chronic pain can be helped. These individuals are often struggling, and if allowing this avenue can bring relief then I am all for it.

As for the rest of us, I still don’t know. I will state for the record I have never used marijuana. I can see both sides of the debate, and I guess as I have gotten older my views have become more complex. While once very much against the idea now I am leaning toward society’s choice. There are some distinct advantages to legalizing marijuana.

  • Once legal safe limits on consumption can be placed.
  • Regulations on growing, processing, and distribution can be instated and ensure a safe product.
  • There will be a decreased demand from law enforcement agents in going after marijuana users and dealers.
  • Marijuana use can be taxed leading to revenue.
  • Legalization may also spark increased interest in investigating other medicinal properties.

So I guess I am on the legalizing side of the debate. I also can see the arguments with those who wish to uphold the laws against marijuana use. However, I do feel that they will be fighting a loosing battle in years to come.


Herb.com: Marijuana Deaths: How Many Are There?

Huff post: Here’s How Many People Fatally Overdosed On Marijuana Last Year

New Health Guide: Can You Overdose On Marijuana?

Family Council: Number of Deaths Caused by Marijuana Much More than 0

National Institute on Drug Abuse: What is marijuana?





Healthy one day, sick the next- the issue of Diagnosis Creep


An article by Hugo Wilcken in the Medical Journal of Australia InSight page turned me onto the discussion over ‘Diagnosis Creep’. Essentially this is coined as a negative term for the change in definitions of diseases which causes an increase in those diagnosed with that disease which prior to the change would be otherwise considered as not having it. An example would be osteoporosis where in 2008 a new definition was adopted and instantly changed the affected population of women from 21% to 72%! Similarly changes to definitions have created ‘pre-‘ conditions in the diseases of diabetes and hypertension. Wilcken contends that what makes these changes diagnosis creep is that they do not offer health benefits as the treatments do not successfully aid to overall health or well-being.

Some factors have been forwarded to explain diagnosis creep. One such idea is that of the ‘pre’ classification of diseases. Therefore, you may not clinically have the disease, but you are at risk of contracting it. Another theory is that the expert panels who decide on what clinical factors are needed to lead to a diagnosis are made up of clinicians who specialize in their field. These experts, in order to be able to treat effectively, tend to be more inclusive than exclusive when re-examining factors and therefore lessen the threshold for diseases.

Then there is the nasty side of diagnosis creep. There seems to be a pervasive concern that pharmaceutical companies have a wayward hand in expanding the population with certain diseases in order to increase sales of medications for that disease. The MJA InSight article discusses this as ‘Big Phrama’ and contends that some ‘expert panel’ members are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies- leading to potential conflicts of interest. A similar argument was made in an article in The Conversation in 2016.

No matter what the reasons diseases are being re-defined to include more patients an article in the Australian Prescriber magazine sums up the reason for this post:

Health professionals should be more aware, and patients and the public better informed, about the controversy surrounding many contemporary definitions of disease. Diagnostic criteria are not set in stone – they are regularly changed, often with the best of intentions, but are also often rigorously challenged because of the potential for unintended harms.

In Australia the issue has been seen as serious enough that the NPS group has developed an entire campaign entitled “Choose Wisely” to inform and attempt to tackle the need for certain tests, treatments and procedures. Readers of this blog can also follow the Choose Wisely campaign on Twitter at @ChooseWiselyAU.

Before the MJA article I had not known about diagnosis creep, nor the controversy surrounding it. However, the issue does make sense. All healthcare professionals should be conscious of how and why patients are being diagnosed with diseases and what treatments are being given. While I do recognize the need for disease management and appropriate medications I also recognize that we can easily over-medicate and the elimination of any unneeded treatment would be valuable, particularly in the elderly. I applaud the works of Wilcken and the NPS at serving as a checks-and-balance system in this most important area.


MJA InSight: Diagnosis creep: the new problem in medicine

The Conversation: Resisting expanding disease empires: why we shouldn’t label healthy people as sick

Australian Prescriber: Caution! Diagnosis creep

NPS Medwise: Choosing Wisely Australia


Australian drug names to get an overall in keeping with international standards

According to an article published on the GIZMODO website by Rae Johnston the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is planning to change the name of approximately 200 medications in Australia over a seven year period to better align with the international community. According to the article the TGA determines the approved names for medications, however in some cases the names may deviate from the internationally known name as identified by the World Health Organization. During the transition period the TGA will insist that labels show both the old and new medication names.

There is a website setup by the TGA acknowledging the name changes and listing some of the medications names which will be changed. Most will stay relatively the same with only minor variations due to the differences of spelling. Interestingly enough the TGA website was published in November, 2016 and the article in GIZMODO published yesterday. I wonder if there is a delay in the name-change process?


GIZMODO: 200 Australian Medications Are Getting A Name Change

Theraputic Goods Administration: Updating medicine ingredient names – list of affected ingredients