Thinking back on grade school, I remember being quite miffed that Canada was the world’s 2nd largest land mass (2nd?? that damned Russia!!). But for this country, 2nd in anything was pretty unusual. And there are things you really don’t want to lead in. There is no pleasure in being the world leader in oppression of any kind though some of my fellow citizens seem to think it a good thing to be first in tobacco control. But even if we actually once were the world leader in that, we would have to cede that coveted spot by a large margin to Australia.
Canada might have been early in banning electronic cigarettes but Australia was first. And to add insult to injury, Australia has also banned that evil smokeless tobacco which is still quite available in our fair country. Not to mention that what used to be considered a free and wild country is also pushing forward on plain packaging.
It is quite fitting that Australia was the setting for this year’s World Medical Association conference and that one of the keynotes was a call to extend bans on smokeless tobacco products (led by Ardis Hoven, chair of the American Medical Association). It is not fitting that a medical group advocated removing the available safer alternatives to a common risky practice when in every other field they would vehemently argue the need for harm reduction. You can bet that almost every member of that organization would support methadone treatment.
So it will be another confusion of concerns when the newly named Harm Reduction International meets in Adelaide in 2012. While it is not certain whether we will attend or not, if we do, we will be presenting about products that are banned in that country. We will not be able to do the same demonstrations of those products which ended up being one of the highlights of the Beirut conference. And Aussies seemed to form a high proportion of the most intrigued participants in our sessions; they were intrigued at learning about some practical solutions to smoking related harm and then depressed since their government had made a point of banning those solutions.
You’d think that as a former penal colony, the Land Down Under would be a little more sensitive to encroachments on personal freedoms but perhaps its a case of former prisoners missing being ordered about. Whatever the reasons, Australia is determined to be world leader in tobacco control and I suspect that Britain should be concerned lest the colony turns its gaze onto the next logical target and threatens Britain’s lead in demonizing and criminalizing alcohol consumption.
In some ways, attending Adelaide would bring our group closer to approximating the experience of the many individuals who work with illicit drugs with the difference that typically the risky behavior is illegal but the safer alternatives are not only legal but available, actively promoted and often subsidized.
-Paul L. Bergen