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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 9257

Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (17:16): I rise to support the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 insofar as the impacts that smoking has on the health of Australians, the long-term cost to Australian society and the healthcare system are significant. I have been involved with the work of the Preventative Health Taskforce and some of the representations made to that task force on the arguments for the reduction in the levels of smoking within Australian society and the need to consider strategies that would reduce the level of uptake of smoking, particularly amongst young people, and also prevention programs that see a downturn in the number of Australians who smoke. Part of the interest in the discussions with the Preventative Health Taskforce was in some of their thinking around some of the strategies, and we were certainly exploring the need for well-informed awareness programs that provide an educative process that would enable people to give greater consideration to the risks and health impacts that smoking has on them.

One of the arguments that are always straightforward and simple is to increase the excise, but one of the alternative debates to that is that those who tend to live in low-socioeconomic circumstances will reduce smoking for a period of time but do not sustain it; they return to their smoking practice or habit. In making that decision, they then make decisions about what they alleviate when they need to set money aside in order to pay for the cigarettes that they buy. Often choices are made around prescription medications or a child's excursions. So there are a whole range of factors where, if you have a limited budget and you want to continue smoking even though the price has gone up, you start to make choices, and some of them are the wrong choices.

I had the privilege of working on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework, in which we looked at why we needed measures, the findings for each of the measures and then the policy implications. What struck me when I was working through that was the impact of tobacco or smoking on health—both passive smoking and direct smoking in which an individual chose to expose themselves to risks. Even though they had the knowledge from what they had seen and what was on cigarette packets, that did not cause them to diminish that harmful behaviour.

In this whole debate I have wondered about the impact of the plain packaging. Certainly, when I look at the mock-ups of the plain packages, the visual images of the types of cancer or other health problems you can have with smoking are extremely graphic, but I also accept that you can switch those off after a while, or you find a container that you can fit these into and it alleviates that message.

I also talked to retailers within Hasluck and sought their views on a range of issues around what it would mean for them, and the first thing they said to me was that the plain packaging may not make a difference. They had all run straw polls just to see if people would stop smoking or reduce their smoking with plain packaging. They indicated to me that in each of their stores or outlets the indication was that people would not change. What they were annoyed about was the fact that the colouring of their packet would be affected, but it would not alter their smoking. There were a couple of very key, important issues that the retailers raised with me. They made the point that, as my colleague who spoke previously said, cigarettes are locked behind doors. From their perspective the retailers saw that as workable and they also saw it as helpful, because when you run a business every second and every minute is money to you. They said it was easy just to scan the shelves and see cigarette packets by colour. They said that if we go to plain packaging then their problem would be that those customers who are illiterate or who have English as a second language identify their packets by colour. So they put to me a number of propositions that would impact on their time. But, strangely enough, they also conceded that the importance of health was a significant factor that should be considered. Their argument was for better awareness programs and more funding. To that end, I had some degree of empathy for their needs given the task that they will have in having the base of their packages roughly the same in visual appearance, which makes it a detraction from their time—although by human nature we adjust, and they would tend to find ways of being very effective and efficient in the way that they would dispense cigarettes. But I do have some degree of sympathy for their situation. Tax versus plain packaging? I certainly would not support an increase in excise on tobacco and its supply at this time and would lean towards plain packaging, because I think that that is far better to alleviate some of the cost of living stresses that families within my electorate who do smoke will experience, particularly in the context of rising prices with the onset of a potential carbon tax that will have an impact. Also, I think that the initiatives of the Australian health ministers, certainly of the Council of Australian Governments, have strengthened an awareness around the need for people to weigh up and consider their health in the context of smoking and the impact of tobacco. What I have been pleased to see is the focus on passive smoking. Certainly the Preventative Health Taskforce and the work led by Professor Michael Daube and many others has highlighted the need for very considered thinking by those in households where there are children about the impact on them of tobacco smoke. If this approach to plain packaging works and helps further to decrease the number of people smoking then it is at least a constructive outcome.

By the same token, I have a concern about the way in which we can become a nanny state. At times we have to give people responsibility for their decisions. It is easy for governments to legislate on a range of factors in which we become protective in a way that sees the state intrude on the choices that people make. To that end I would not want to see a further reduction in the way that Australians do have a choice. However, I do see the benefits of at least plain packaging that might make that difference.

Another element that is of interest to me is that, when I walk past hospitals, I am always fascinated to see people standing there with drips in their arms and bandaged getting in as many cigarettes as they can in the short period of time they can stand out the front of the hospital.

Mr Slipper: And in some cases it is pregnant women outside a maternity hospital.

Mr WYATT: I agree with you, it is pregnant women also. To me that is an anomaly in terms of the health of an individual, given the level of impact that smoking has, that it is detrimental to the wellbeing of a child in a womb or the person who is a patient.

In the inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing, our discussion focused on the health prevention measures, the health outcomes and the health benefits to Australian society. We hoped that the amount of funding that is needed to be spent on treating people whose health situation is exacerbated by their smoking will diminish and that that funding can be directed towards preventative measures in other health sectors and other initiatives within those sectors.

One of our challenges in all of this is the balancing of responsibility against the need to intervene. I suppose the task force heard this in submissions to it. Certainly the health and ageing parliamentary committee heard arguments from those who have a very strong interest either as a wholesaler or retailer or as a consumer of the product. In weighing up those arguments we considered the health impact, the impact on work and the workforce, and the level of poor health. We also considered the World Health Organisation frameworks that encourage a reduction in the level of smoking and the suggestion that plain packaging would be highly beneficial in discouraging people from taking up smoking.

In reading through some research papers I was interested to see that countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand have considered at some point introducing plain packaging. One of the challenges in that is the issue of intellectual property. Certainly the legislation that related to intellectual property and plain packaging was referred to the health and ageing committee, but it was not within our scope or experience, particularly legal experience, to make a judgment with respect to that element of the legislation.

I hope that at the end of 12 months we review what progress has been made as a result of plain packaging, to see whether it has made a difference and whether it has led to a reduction in the take-up of smoking, particularly by younger people. What perturbs me is the number of young women I see smoking, particularly in the teenage years. If we can see a reduction in that 12-month period and then take more of a longitudinal look at this issue, maybe the decision to have plain packaging will be vindicated. It may be vindicated with respect to the amount of funding required to provide hospitalisation treatment for those who experience cardiopulmonary illnesses, chronic disease conditions and other conditions that have a related impact from smoking. I also hope to see that impact of passive smoking—on a child as it develops in a womb, or in its formative years—diminish. Having travelled overseas I enjoy the clean air that we have in restaurants in this country and being at sporting venues, events and functions where smokers are now much fewer than nonsmokers. The Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill, whilst challenging in concept and in the debates that have occurred and from the evidence we heard in the committee, has challenged my thinking about prevention, awareness, targeting and the relationship of colour to a tobacco brand's IP. The needs of retailers in all this have been very illuminating.

I acknowledge that the Minister for Health and Ageing in her considerations has looked at the health impact outcome and has embedded that strongly in her speeches. Having had a health background for some period of time, I would endorse those messages so that we have a population which is much healthier and has lower rates of illness from tobacco smoking and a community in which people are given the opportunity to make choices because there will be some people who will continue to smoke. Within a democracy, I would equally defend their right to exercise that choice, but I would encourage them equally to relinquish the habit of smoking, consider their health and look at alternatives that will prolong their life, give them the opportunity to be healthy and to contribute to Australian society.