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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 9260


Mr SLIPPER (FisherDeputy Speaker) (17:31): One point on which I strongly agree with the member for Hasluck relates to the fact that in a democracy people should be allowed to smoke if they wish, however undesirable that habit might be. I think we always have a difficult problem in our community balancing the rights of people to do certain things even if those things are not good for them with the fact that it would be enormously better and in the community's interest were those people not to take that course of action. A prime example of that is cigarette smoking and the way in which so many people over so many years have become addicted.

For a moment we probably should pause and just say how fortunate we are in Australia to have actually reduced the incidence of smoking. I recall people telling me that, in times past, medical practitioners used to advise pregnant women to smoke as it would help them relax. I can recall, as others can, going to places where there were smoking sections and non-smoking sections. Somehow in those days we did not seem to have our nostrils as offended as they now are by the smell of cigarette smoke or, indeed, smoke from other tobacco products. I remember my grandfather had the most incredible array of pipes and each of them had a name. His favourite one was called Thora and was shaped like a lion. It was a beautiful pipe. He happily lived until almost 90. But the impact of smoking on the collective health of the Australian community is something that ought not to be underestimated.

Governments have sought over the years to combat smoking through a range of measures, using both the carrot and the stick. The Liberal and National parties in government have a really good track record with respect to tobacco control and in reducing the rates of smoking in this country. Way back in 1966, the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, introduced a voluntary tobacco advertising code. Ten years later, in 1976, the Fraser government implemented a ban on the advertising of tobacco products on television and radio. Dr Wooldridge, in June 1997, announced what at the time was the biggest ever national advertising campaign against smoking with the federal government then spending some $7 million over two years. The Howard government, in 1999, reformed cigarette taxation from a weight basis to a per stick excise. The Howard government, with the now Leader of the Opposition as Minister for Health and Ageing, introduced the graphic health warnings on tobacco products in 2006. In 2009, the Liberal-National Party proposed an increase in the tobacco excise, a measure which was happily—and I thank the Minister for Health and Ageing for this—later adopted by the government.

The Liberal and National parties have presided over the greatest decline in smoking rates whilst in government. It is illuminating to recognise that the prevalence of smoking declined from 21.8 per cent in 1998 to 16.6 per cent of Australians over the age of 14 by 2007. These are amongst the lowest rates of smoking in the world. The decline in smoking rates in Australia, with a fall of 40 per cent for men and 44 per cent for women between 1989 and 2007, were amongst the biggest in the OECD. The fall in smoking rates amongst women was the biggest in the OECD. So it is wrong to suggest that the Liberal-National opposition is soft on tobacco companies.

The reduction in the rate of people smoking cigarettes has partly been as a result of the increased cost of cigarettes and partly as a result of education. I think it is also due to the fact that people recognise that smoking is not a healthy thing to do. In 2011, more and more people are aware of the benefits of health, the benefits of healthy practice and the benefits of not smoking.

I am very pleased to join the debate on these cognate bills. As other honourable members have said, the Liberal-National opposition is supporting the first bill, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011, with an amendment to be moved but is opposing the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011. I think one ought to give credit where credit is due and there is no doubt that the government, through this bill, is seeking to build on the excellent record of former Liberal-National governments in the improvement of the rate of people who do not smoke in Australia. I think that most people, even many smokers, would accept that smoking is a filthy and costly habit which has been allowed to gain a considerable foothold in societies around the world, including in this country. We do, however, have a situation here where the rate of smoking is so much lower than in many other parts of the world. When I have travelled, I must confess that I have been shocked at the wafting smell of cigarette smoke almost everywhere and I have forgotten that once in this country we had the same sense of pollution and the same kind of pollution.

Smokers themselves will tell you that it is an unwelcome habit. Many of them hate themselves for smoking. Many of them understand that their health is diminished as a result of this habit and also that their lifestyle has been diminished because the smoking habit tends to consume considerable amounts of income. I am actually not sure what a packet of cigarettes costs today, but I understand that it is quite expensive. Some people smoke a packet a day, two packets a day or three packets a day, so it may well cost them $45 a day. If you multiply that $45 by the number of days in a year and then the number of years in a lifetime, often it is not hard to see that tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, could have literally gone up in smoke. Many smokers have described themselves quite bluntly as the 'sucker' at the end of their cigarettes, and I suppose that term applies to them in more ways than one.

The biggest danger is that once new smokers get a feel for the hit they receive from nicotine and cigarettes it is only a short step further to where they become addicted and dependent on cigarettes. All of us would know of people who, when they had a difficult phone call to make, would sit down and light up a cigarette. That would enable them to accumulate the mental concentration necessary to carry out what they perceived to be a difficult task. Unfortunately, although they might temporarily receive a euphoric feeling, as with many other addictions the victim is slowly dragged towards financial disaster and also health disaster.

The cigarette industry has through advertising encouraged people to smoke. I suppose they want to sell cigarettes and that is understandable in a commercial sense. However, I am pleased that they do not have the same opportunity to advertise as they once did. It is hard to believe that not so long ago there were people who actually said that lung cancer was not caused, partly, as a result of smoking cigarettes. Lung cancer is a considerable killer in Australia. Figures from 2007 show some 9,703 sufferers of lung cancer at that time in this country. That same year saw 7,626 recorded deaths from lung cancer. One would be quite incorrect to suggest that all lung cancer could be attributed to smoking, but smoking does account for a considerable number of people who fall victim to lung cancer.

It is, therefore, the responsibility of the government of Australia—and in fact all other governments regardless of their political make-up—to do all that they can to maintain the health of Australians generally, and with the benefit of the facts now out there about smoking and the impact it has on so many Australians, there is little argument from anyone that more needs to be done to address the problem and reduce the deaths. It is the government's responsibility to do all that it can to reduce smoking and ensure that those who choose to smoke are given the best information available so that they are able to make an informed decision about this practice so as to reduce illness and death and reduce the costs of health care in this area.

The first health warning appeared on cigarette packets in the early 1970s and it was a simple warning: 'Warning—Smoking is a health hazard', and I mentioned before about steps taken by the Liberal-National government when graphic pictures accompanied various warnings on cigarette packets. Under the legislation currently, the warnings must cover 30 per cent of the front and 90 per cent of the back of the box. Pictures are accompanied by printed messages such as: 'Smoking causes emphysema', 'Smoking causes throat and mouth cancer', 'Smoking clogs your arteries', 'Smoking harms unborn babies', and of course 'Smoking causes lung cancer', and others.

This bill aims to strengthen further, from 1 January next year, the message to smokers and those thinking of taking up smoking. From that date under the provisions of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011, all forms of brand logos, colouring and printed promotional text will no longer be allowable on cigarette packets. The new regulations will allow only a brand name and graphic health warnings.

There have been some concerns and objections regarding the right of any commercial company to display its company logo on its products and this issue has been addressed in part in the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011. Under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, the TRIPS agreement, administered by the World Trade Organisation, the 'use of a trademark in the course of trade shall not be unjustifiably encumbered by special requirements'. However, the obvious concerns in relation to plain packaging are somewhat allayed as the WTO agreement does include exceptions based on health reasons. This bill aims to address the concern by overriding any tobacco company concerns with the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011.

There is a group in our community who is disadvantaged by cigarette smoking but who did not make the decision to actually smoke. They are forced to smoke because of the polluted atmosphere when they are around people who do smoke. I refer of course to passive smokers. I suspect that even those people who do not smoke have over the years absorbed quite a lot of smoke passively and there have been situations where the health of people who are victims of passive smoking have been affected either as adversely or even more adversely than the health of people who actually do smoke.

So I believe this is a work in progress. The bills before the House are not a panacea. They are not going to solve the problem overnight. It would be delightful in a health sense if the government could ban smoking—except that would be incompatible with Australia being a democratic society and people being able to do what they want when they want as long as the rights of others are not adversely affected. With smoking, the rights of others are adversely affected because passive smoking has impacts for people who are not actually smoking.

While the simple solution might be to remove this product from the shelves, I do not believe that is an acceptable proposition in a democratic society like Australia. Therefore, the government must use the range of weapons at its disposal. Plain packaging of cigarettes will make them less attractive. Advertising campaigns pointing out the dangers of smoking must be continued. I believe that over the years governments will continue to increase the rate of excise levied on cigarettes with a view to discouraging more and more people from continuing or taking up this practice which is clearly adverse to their health. Some people like to smoke socially, but the reality is that nicotine via cigarettes is clearly addictive. There are many people who might want to occasionally light up one with friends and ultimately end up smoking one, two or three packets a day.

I do support the Liberal-National position on these bills. I commend the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011, with the amendment, to honourable members.