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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2325

Senator MARSHALL (7:01 PM) —I want to speak to the Highway to health: better access for rural, regional and remote patients report of the Standing Committee on Community Affairs in the general context of cigarette smoking. I was a little distressed this week when I came to the parliament to find a letter from Philip Morris, which is beginning a campaign to say no to the proposed tobacco tax increase. Senators may know that there has been a Preventative Health Taskforce recommendation that the price of cigarettes should go up. They have in fact decided that the best policy measure available to government at the federal level to reduce the unnecessary death and disease caused by smoking is a substantial increase in tobacco tax. Evidence collected by the government’s Preventative Health Taskforce shows that a 21 per cent increase in the price of tobacco products would prevent 35,500 Australian children from becoming smokers by making cigarettes unaffordable. I think that is in an excellent objective. Presently, about 140,000 Australian schoolchildren smoke. Based on the latest available data from 2005, and if we put it in the context of Victoria, which is the state I represent, 31,138 Victorian children started experimenting with tobacco and a further 7,033 went on to become regular smokers. Of those who become regular smokers, many will become lifetime smokers and about half of them will die prematurely from cigarette smoking.

When I got this campaign letter and read through it and read some of the material they attached to their campaign letter, Philip Morris would have us believe that they have concerns about the tax revenue base of reduced smoking. They said that if we put the price of cigarette packets up there will be a greater use of illegal cigarettes which avoid the excise and, therefore, the government will reduce its revenue. They also say that it will encourage criminal elements to provide illegal tobacco to people instead of excise tobacco.

One of the things Philip Morris forget to mention is that if we reduce the sale of cigarettes they will lose their income. Strangely enough, through the whole campaign, they do not suggest once what I suspect is their real concern—that an increase in the price of cigarette packets will drive down smoking or encourage people to give up smoking and, in particular, the price point will be reached where it is unviable for schoolchildren to start smoking and therefore reduce their profits. I suspect what Philip Morris is really on about is concern for their bottom line. That distresses me somewhat. This company produces tobacco and spends a lot of its marketing dollars pedalling this very unhealthy and addictive drug, to which there is no safe level of exposure, not deliberately to schoolchildren in the strict sense of the word but by making sure that it is available. The Preventative Health Taskforce suggests that what we really want to do is stop children taking up smoking in the first place.

In 2005, an estimated 140,000 boys and girls aged between 12 and 17 years smoked over 3,450,000 cigarettes between them in the week before the survey was conducted. That is a lot of cigarettes. I am not surprised that Philip Morris would engage in a campaign to stop the increase in excised tobacco recommended by the Preventative Health Taskforce because, if we stopped those children smoking nearly 3½ million cigarettes in a week, that would seriously affect their bottom line.

Smoking and the consequences of smoking place a huge burden on our economy, the health system and the public purse generally. The study of the burden from smoking related illnesses relates to the financial year of 2004-05, which is unfortunately the latest information available, and in that financial year the total social cost of tobacco use in Australia was estimated to be $31½ billion. This accounted for 56.2 per cent of the total social cost of all drugs, including alcohol and illicit drugs.

That figure includes some costs of involuntary smoking, passive smoking in the home and exposure of unborn children to the effects of their mothers’ smoking, and these costs are mostly imposed upon the young. Children under 15 years account for 25 per cent of deaths and 96 per cent of hospital bed days and 91 per cent of hospital costs attributable to involuntary smoking. Smoking costs the economy in lost productivity an estimated $5.7 billion in the workplace through workforce absenteeism and $9.8 billion in lost household labour through sickness and premature death. The estimated number of smoking-related deaths per annum is 15½ thousand deaths from smoking, and again the last figures were from 2003.

I just wanted to get some of those facts on the record because I do find it somewhat offensive that Philip Morris has mounted a public campaign with some nice printed leaflets saying no to any proposed increase in the excise and trying to explain to us that it is in our interest to keep the price of cigarettes low because we will get some extra excise, when that is nothing. It pales into insignificance against the cost that smoking inflicts upon our community. Even if we can stop one child taking up a lifetime of smoking, that would be a benefit. If we can seriously eat into children taking up smoking in the first instance, stop them becoming lifelong smokers, we will save half of those lives and, again, those figures are incredibly substantial.

Let me remind the chamber again: 140,000 Australian schoolchildren are estimated to smoke, and we, as legislators, should be doing all we can to reduce and discourage that. And for Philip Morris to run a campaign suggesting that it is in our best national interest to keep the price of cigarettes low just so we can protect some tax base, which pales into insignificance against the cost and the human tragedy of lifelong smoking, I think is very disingenuous. They ought to just ’fess up and admit to what they are—that is, people who peddle a drug to which there is no safe level of exposure—and they ought to acknowledge that is the business they are in. They ought to acknowledge there is no safe level of smoking, and they ought to assist the government and communities in ultimately wiping out their industry. There is no benefit to this economy, there is no individual benefit, and there is no safe level of smoking. It is something that, as a reformed smoker, I feel very strongly about.

I am concerned. I know how difficult it is to kick the habit and give up. I would be devastated if my children took up smoking given what we now know about the harmful effects of it. That is what Philip Morris ought to be spending their money on. They ought to be spending money on educating our children and adults; they ought to be spending their profits on ensuring people do not take up this terrible, addictive habit to which there is no safe level of exposure. There is no safe level for cigarette smoking. I was somewhat pleased that they started this campaign and drew it to my attention. I think it is disingenuous. They ought to be condemned for running this campaign. They ought to be assisting the community to kick the habit.