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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7463

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12:29): This is an issue that resonates deeply with me, and I commend the member for Kingston for her concerns. But I also associate myself with the remarks of the member for Gippsland, for the reservations that he has. My father, Lance, died of lung cancer aged 76, on the first day of spring in 2008, after a lifetime of smoking. His last words to my then 10-year-old son, Nicholas, were: 'Don't ever smoke.' To watch my father go downhill as the cancer took over his body is not something anyone wants their loved ones to have to endure. It is a cruel, torturous death.

Tobacco smoking is one of the largest preventable causes of disease and premature death in Australia. About 15,500 Australians die from smoking related illnesses each year. The coalition has always acted decisively while in government to address the prevalence of smoking. Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, played a significant role when he was minister for health, with graphic health warnings on cigarette packets in addition to other antismoking initiatives. As a result of these initiatives the prevalence of smoking in Australia declined to being amongst the lowest in the world. In fact, between 1998 and 2007 alone, smoking prevalence in people 14 years and older fell from 20.8 per cent to 16.6 per cent. The coalition continues to support sensible measures that actively discourage smoking—it has recently supported legislation to tighten electronic advertising restrictions—and for this reason we will not oppose the government's plain-packaging legislation but will seek to move amendments; sensible changes to make any laws more workable and more practicable.

While smoking is on the decline in Australia, it is still particularly concerning that almost 60,000 teenagers aged between 15 and 17 are regular smokers, and five per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds smoke. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, with all the warnings and education around, it seems the smoking take-up rate is higher amongst young girls than boys. Often these are well-informed girls from affluent families who know the damage smoking can do to them, yet they still decide to light up. It simply beggars belief. We need to learn what the underlying reasons for this are. I find it hard to believe that it is just to be cool, but as we all know, because we have all been there, peer pressure is a major influence on many adolescent decision-making thought processes. I believe more education is needed about smoking, both at secondary school and at primary school. We need to be better at getting through to children and teenagers the message about the obvious dangers that smoking poses to them, the long-term health complications of smoking and the fact that it will kill you before your time.

It also concerns me that in my electorate of Riverina it is not an uncommon sight in the main street of any city or town you care to visit to see pregnant women lighting up. It is not just a Riverina habit. Right across the country mothers-to-be continue to defy the health and welfare of their unborn babies, and themselves, by smoking. Despite the advertisements on TV and the graphic warnings advising of the risks smoking has to a baby, the addiction factor is so strong that they continue to smoke even though it is so harmful. We need to invest more into education of these women, too, and help them to kick the habit, through a QUIT program with the appropriate support required. Not only will these mothers require medical attention in the future, due to their smoking, but so too will their children, if they continue. It is a huge financial burden to the Australian taxpayer.

The health benefits of quitting smoking are tremendous. The human body is remarkably resilient. It begins to repair the damage from the very first day a smoker quits. Within eight hours the excess carbon monoxide is out of the bloodstream, within five days the nicotine has left the body and in three months lung function starts to improve. If a person quits at the age of 50 they halve the risk of smoking related death, but if a person quits at the age of 30 they avoid almost all of the excess risk, on average.

Education and support are vital to helping a smoker quit, but at the end of the day it is up to the individual to want to quit and then it is a matter of having the inner will power, or won't power, if you like, to do so. We cannot force someone to quit, but government should do all in its power to help educate against starting a practice that becomes a habit—a highly addictive and deadly one. Tobacco control is an important measure but we must tread carefully, because we also must not become a nanny state. No-one wants or needs that. We live in a democratic society for which brave men and women fought and died so that today we may have freedom of expression and freedom of choice.

It is important to remember that while a product is legally available for sale, it is legally available to buy and use. It worries me that this government, having pushed this legislation through, will move to do similar nanny-state legislation for alcohol products and possibly some food products that can cause obesity. Where do you start and where do you stop? This government, unfortunately, cannot be trusted and this is why there is so much scepticism from the general public towards everything this government does.