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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1548


Mr CRAIG THOMSON (12:26 PM) —While recently flicking through the pay TV sports channels—and my wife always chides me for doing that far too often—I noticed that they were running highlights of an old one-day cricket match, a World Series match between Australia and Australia A. I was firstly captured by the host of iconic names such as Merv Hughes, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath who were out there strutting their stuff. But it was not so much the big names of Australian one-day cricket that stood out. What was also impossible to ignore on the TV screen was the large ad for cigarettes in the background. These prominent banners plastered over the fence at the ground were placed strategically in the line of the TV cameras to gain maximum visual impact amongst the viewing audience.

It was not that long ago that this tobacco advertising was being beamed into the lounge rooms of millions of Australians during prime time sports programs. It would not have been thought of as out of the ordinary to see these big cigarette ads filling so much of the TV screen because they were still permitted then. The cricket highlights I spoke about were part of the 1994-95 World Series, just 15 years or so ago. Part of the reason tobacco advertising stood out in those old cricket highlights is that the norm now is that such advertising is nowhere to be seen, at least not on television.

Australia has made great progress in preventative health when it comes to smoking, and much of that has been attributed to the crackdowns on tobacco advertising. Smoking rates in Australia have been declining since the mid-1970s when advertising bans first started—down from around 35 per cent to around 18 per cent to 19 per cent today. But, despite what may be seen as a dramatic drop in the rate of tobacco use, it remains Australia’s single largest cause of premature death and disease, killing 15,000 Australians a year and costing our economy $31.5 billion.

Quite a revolution has been occurring in the way that sellers of any products get their message across to potential buyers. As digital technology evolves at a rate which is sometimes difficult to keep up with, advertisers are constantly finding new and innovative ways to sell products. This advertising, unfortunately, includes tobacco. Cigarettes are now being heavily promoted on the internet and there are serious concerns and growing concerns that both online advertising and social network sites are being used to promote tobacco to young Australians. Young people, especially those between the ages of 24 and 29, currently have the highest rate of smoking amongst Australians. Just as tobacco marketers have in the recent past infiltrated youth-friendly venues, it is most conceivable that they would have a presence on youth-friendly websites.

While the internet is being used extensively to sell cigarettes, its largely unregulated status holds much potential as a vehicle for both promoting smoking and advertising tobacco products. Internet use by young people is part of their everyday life. More than half of Australia’s youth and young adults use the internet on a daily basis. Many popular youth websites rely on users to provide content in the form of videos, diaries, photographs and music. There is the potential for the anonymous exploitation of these sites, including by tobacco marketers and retailers, to reach a large audience, particularly youth, by both promoting and culturally undermining smoking.

One study examining the tobacco content on the video-sharing website YouTube found that tobacco imagery is ‘prolific and accessible’ on the site. Videos with pro-smoking content ranged from images of young men and women smoking, to smoking fetish scenarios, to magic tricks featuring cigarettes. Additionally, vintage cigarette advertisements appear on the site. While the research was unable to determine whether the tobacco industry had posted any of this material on the website, there was evidence that distributors of the Swedish smokeless tobacco had posted promotional videos on the site. A content analysis study of pro-tobacco websites revealed that tobacco has a pervasive presence on the internet, especially on e-commerce sites and sites featuring hobbies, recreation and fetishes. Only 11 per cent of the sites examined contained health warnings. The pro-tobacco sites frequently associated smoking with glamorous and alternative lifestyles and with images of attractive, young males and females. Many of the websites offered interactive site features that are potentially appealing to young people.

Several Australian websites also sell cigarettes. These sites often do not post health warnings, nor do they comply with state and territory based legislation surrounding point-of-sale advertising. In May 2005, following media reports about internet tobacco sales, the Australian Federal Police announced an ongoing investigation as to whether owners of tobacco sales sites are breaking laws prohibiting tobacco advertising. We are now further toughening our laws on tobacco advertising. Our internet tobacco legislation will mean that online sales, advertising and promotion of tobacco will now be subject to the same kinds of restrictions that are placed on over-the-counter sales. This is an important step in reaching the benchmarks set under the COAG National Healthcare Agreement of reducing smoking rates to 10 per cent by 2018 and halving the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking rate. Together with our efforts to mandate the plain packaging of tobacco products from 2012, Australia is on track to have the world’s toughest measures against tobacco.

The main impact of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 will be on retailers who advertise their products without the required health warnings, and as being ‘tax free’. Retailers, including the major supermarket chains and specialist tobacco and cigar retailers, will be consulted on a draft of the regulations once developed.

Let us have a quick look at some of the background to this bill. On 29 April 2010, the Minister for Health and Ageing announced that the government would legislate to restrict Australian internet advertising of tobacco products, bringing the internet into line with restrictions already in place in other media. This followed consultation with stakeholders on the legislation conducted from 2007 and was part of a package of measures to tackle smoking which also included increasing tobacco excise by 25 per cent above normal CPI adjustments; legislation to require plain packaging for tobacco products; and a targeted social marketing campaign to curb smoking among high-risk and disadvantaged groups.

This bill addresses an ambiguity that exists regarding internet advertising of tobacco products, amending the act to specifically include advertising over the internet and other electronic media. Regulations will be made under the amendment act to prescribe specific requirements as to the size, content, format and location of tobacco advertisements; the inclusion of health warnings, including graphic health warnings; warnings about age restrictions on the sale of tobacco products; information about any fees, taxes and charges payable in relation to tobacco products; and age restricted access systems for access to tobacco advertisements.

Part 8 of schedule 5 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 provides carriage service providers—for example, internet service providers and internet content hosts—with legal protection from civil and criminal proceedings in relation to the content they provide. This protection will be unaffected and the proposed legislation does not seek to impose any obligation on internet service providers for monitoring content accessed via their sites. It is expected that the proposed amendments will have little or no impact on the three major tobacco companies. The main impact will be on retailers who advertise their products without the required health warnings and as ‘tax free’, therefore advertising ‘cheap’ cigarettes. Retailers, including the major supermarket chains and specialist tobacco and cigar retailers, will be consulted on a draft of the regulations once developed.

While the amendments will apply to the promotion of tobacco on social networking sites, the identification of the publisher of a tobacco advertisement on a social networking site is difficult. Many of the advertisements or promotions on sites such as Facebook, YouTube and MySpace are placed by anonymous users, so identifying or prosecuting the publisher can be difficult.

This bill is an important bill in relation to the progressive nature of trying to make sure that we can reach the targets of reducing smoking in Australia. It makes it an offence to advertise tobacco products on the internet and in other electronic media such as mobile phones or computers unless the advertisement complies with state and territory legislation or Commonwealth regulations. The offence provisions contained in section 15A of the proposed amendments will apply to any person who publishes a tobacco advertisement on the internet or via any electronic means.

The meaning of ‘published in Australia’ has been extended in the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Act 2010, the amendment act, to apply to circumstances where the advertisement did not originate in Australia, or its origin cannot be determined and the advertiser had a significant Australian connection. Such a connection would be where a publisher who may or may not be the defendant publisher is: an Australian citizen; a permanent resident; an entity that was incorporated or formed in Australia; a foreign person in Australia; or a foreign entity or unincorporated body with its central management and control in Australia. Therefore, the offence provision would have, to some extent, extraterritorial operation. This is justified on the basis that the internet and other electronic media are potential means of publishing material that is accessible to the public in Australia that would be prohibited under the amendment act if other means of publication were used. This extraterritorial operation of the provisions is restricted by the fact that there must be an Australian connection, as explained.

It has been proven through much research and by way of a range of studies and gathering of facts and figures that tobacco advertising does encourage people to smoke, especially younger Australians. Therefore, we must do everything we can to limit the opportunities tobacco marketers have to increase the sales of their products through the new media, mainly via the internet, on social networking sites, and through personal communication devices such as mobile phones.

It is important that the coalition support this, and I note that the shadow spokesman has. We hope the opposition take the next step, like the Australian Labor Party, and ban donations from tobacco companies as well because that is part of making sure we do everything we possibly can to discourage Australians from smoking. I would welcome that announcement from the opposition some day soon.

This bill will make it much tougher for tobacco retailers and marketers to exploit the vulnerability that younger people in particular may have in trying their products and potentially becoming addicted to smoking. Smoking, as I have already said, costs the Australian economy $31.5 billion a year and sees 15,000 Australians dying every year. We need to be doing everything we possibly can to encourage people not to take up this habit. This bill is an important step in making sure that that happens, and I commend it to the House.