TGA decision highlights failings of 'Independent' bodies in policy making

Readers of the Australian Financial Review would have possibly seen an op-ed in today's paper by WA Senator Dean Smith criticising ‘independent’ government bodies/institutions and the unaccountable nature of the outcomes they produce. One such institution the Senator highlights is the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The TGA continues to block the sale of e-cigarettes in Australia. In the piece the Senator writes “Yet here, where our “independent" regulator is seemingly in the thrall of anti smoking evangelists, Australians who are using e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking are effectively engaging in a criminal act.”

Along with many others, the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance (ATA) has continued to highlight to the TGA that the evidence internationally is overwhelming. It clearly shows that legalisation of these types of products produce positive health outcomes in moving people off traditional cigarettes onto safer alternatives as well as into transitioning to not smoking altogether.

You can read our most recent piece on the problems with this ban here.

Yet despite this evidence, the TGA continues to cling to what might happen and relies on a handful of exceptions and extreme circumstances that exist outside the norm to ignore the reality of tobacco harm reduction and how e-cigarettes have been playing a role in that shift.

You can read about our response to the TGA interim decision and some of their surprising claims here.

 In 2017, our scientific and technological advancements provide us with better and more properly understood paths towards tobacco harm reduction. Yet with its fear based rhetoric and gateway drug type arguments, one could be forgiven for thinking that the TGA is operating straight from a 1980s anti-drugs activist playbook.  The Senator argues that this sort of problem “…is what happens when power is devolved from a democratically elected body to an unaccountable one. You end up with a ridiculous situation where people who want to improve their own health are prevented from doing so by people who ‘know better’.”

At the end of his piece, Senator Smith goes on to say that “Independence is supposed to guard against corruption, not to deprive the public of control and deliver outcomes for which there is no direct accountability. It's now time we examined some of our "independent" bodies through that lens.”

Perhaps it is indeed time for Parliament to start taking responsibility and to reconsider just how much control over vital public health policy it is willing to hand over to an organisation like the TGA. An organisation that is not democratically accountable for its decision to dismiss the overwhelming body of research from independent and government organisations internationally. If the point of an independent body is to remove the politics and ensure evidence based policy, the evidence suggests Australians are getting anything but that. 

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