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Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Page: 3522


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (12:39): The coalition believes it is important to focus on preventative health, to promote positive health outcomes and to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles. Treating people with chronic preventable diseases helps alleviate substantial economic and social costs and helps alleviate a very significant burden on our healthcare system.

Approximately a third of Australia's burden of disease is attributable to modifiable risk factors, and tobacco smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable chronic disease amongst Australians. The National Preventative Health Task Force identified tobacco as the single biggest preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. More than three million people, approximately 18 per cent of Australians aged 14 years and over, still smoke. About half of the smokers who smoke for prolonged periods will die early.

This cost the community $31.5 billion in 2004-2005. Incredibly, almost one in five pregnant women report smoking during pregnancy, including 42 per cent of teenagers and 54 per cent of Indigenous women. This poses serious risks to the mothers, and has long-lasting and far-reaching effects on their offspring.

Some smokers will spare themselves the consequences of chronic illness by quitting. Fewer Australians smoke, and reducing the incidence of smoking has been one of the success stories of the past three decades. But people still smoke. Australia has, overall, one of the lower smoking rates in the OECD, and one of the lower smoking rates in the world. But as the Preventative Health Task Force identifies there are wide variations in the prevalence of smoking.

Smoking remains very high in our Indigenous population; it is high in lower socioeconomic groups and it is high in groups with low education as well. In government, the coalition changed the taxation of tobacco from a per weight basis to a per stick basis. That was a recommendation in the context of the new tax system in 2000, which was supported by all of the health groups and was seen as an important tobacco control measure. We, in opposition, also proposed an increase in the tobacco excise per stick in the Leader of the Opposition's budget in reply speech in 2009.

The Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 updates the legislation regarding tobacco advertising. The Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act was introduced in 1992. This legislation makes it an offence to advertise tobacco products on the internet and in other electronic media. By restricting internet advertising of tobacco products in Australia, this goes some way to targeting smoking and its harmful effects.

There is at present a lack of clarity over the regulations governing advertising on the internet, and this bill aligns tobacco advertising in the electronic media with restrictions in other media and at retail points of sale. It does not ban sales on the internet but it does ban advertising on the internet. It makes sure health guidelines and health warnings are included in internet sales.

The Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act, which this is amending, currently governs the advertising of tobacco products in Australia. Currently, it bans advertisements via print and electronic media such as TV, radio, film et cetera. However, when the act was passed back in 1992, the use of the internet was not nearly as widespread as it is now. Consequently, the regulation application of the legislation was designed for more conventional media platforms.

My colleague in the other place, Dr Andrew Southcott, shadow parliamentary secretary for primary health care, consulted widely with key stakeholders on behalf of the coalition and, of course, there was widespread support. Health groups and anti-cancer groups are very supportive of tighter regulations for tobacco. The tobacco companies did not see any issues with this legislation.

The coalition is supporting the passage of this legislation because we recognise there is more to be done in the area of preventative health, and there is still more to be done in the area of tobacco control. We will be supporting this legislation and its objectives.

Debate interrupted.