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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1591

Ms O’NEILL (3:41 PM) —I am very pleased to be able to speak today on this important legislation that will, when passed, clarify the application of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992. As other members have noted in the debate to date, the status of internet advertising of tobacco products is currently unclear. Through this Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 the government’s intention is to clarify that status. It will do so by making it a specific offence to advertise or promote tobacco products on the internet and all other electronic media and future technologies, unless—for a reason I cannot imagine—they are compliant with state and territory legislation and Commonwealth regulations. This is particularly important, given the way the internet really has engaged young people. Young people all around the world are very much engaged with modern technologies and social networking. We need to make sure that as they communicate with one another we create the safest possible medium for them to do that. It definitely needs to be a tobacco advertising-free zone.

This amendment will also enable the making of regulation in relation to internet tobacco advertising and will prescribe the size, the content, the format and location of tobacco advertisements; the inclusion of health warnings; warnings about age restrictions on the sale of tobacco products; and information about any fees, taxes and charges payable in relation to tobacco products. It is to make it absolutely clear to those people who are smoking—those people who do make a choice to smoke—how dangerous the activity they are about to engage in actually is.

The states and territories expressed their support for the Commonwealth to seek to regulate tobacco advertising on the internet at a Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy in 2007. Consultation with stakeholders on this legislation was conducted in 2007. The legislation was announced by the government on 29 April last year as part of a package of measures to tackle smoking. It certainly fits totally within the framework of preventative health that this government is committed to. That package also included several other measures: increasing the 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 legislation means internet advertising of tobacco products is on an equal footing with other advertising media at points of sale. From a regional perspective this will help ensure that people in rural and regional Australia cannot become the target of a social marketing campaign. The legislation will also provide better protection against sales to minors in rural and regional areas where purchase over the internet may be more prevalent.

I am very glad to hear from those opposite that, in this instance, they will be giving their bipartisan support to the bill. This is clearly an indication of constructive, wiser heads of the opposition having had their say. When speaking to the Australian National Preventative Health Agency legislation last year, I was rather shocked to find that some opposition senators had actually gone on the record as opposing the creation of that agency on the grounds that preventative health initiatives infringed on—in their words—‘the way people choose, quite knowingly, to live their lives’. The member for Hindmarsh has just eloquently put the argument about why choices in a community involve not just an individual but also the lives of the people that they affect and the flow of costs in terms of health care that is required. That is very clearly the case with respect to people’s use of tobacco.

I am glad we have got through this debate so far and managed to avoid those predictable nanny state arguments, because the facts about smoking are clear and compelling. You do not have to go far to find warnings by our public health authorities that smoking is expected to kill one million Australians over the next decade. That is a really significant number in terms of the impact not only on our economy but also on the lives of all those people who work with, who are in a family with and who care for those one million Australians who simply will not be here because of the impacts of tobacco smoking on their life and health. The preventable death of one million Australians understandably needs to be our No. 1 focus.

The very first figure in the Preventative Health Taskforce’s National Preventative Health Strategy says it all. The strategy shows tobacco as the No. 1 risk factor contributing to Australia’s overall burden of disease. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has tobacco causing just under eight disability-adjusted life years. That is almost eight years off your life if you are a smoker. Consider as well that close to three million Australian adults smoke on a daily basis and you get a clear picture of the public health costs of smoking. Consider also that around half of these smokers who continue to smoke for a prolonged period die early. Half of them die in middle age.

Many of us here know people who have died of lung cancer, and this is the case for me. One woman I really wish was here today, somebody who knew me from the very day that I was born, is a great lady called Gay Wootton. I acknowledge in the gallery today my mother, who was a friend of Gay’s when she first arrived in Australia in 1960. Gay Wootton was a young woman at that stage and obviously susceptible to the advertising pool that drew her into smoking and finally succumbing to lung cancer. I recall receiving a phone call from her one evening. This is how news of lung cancer comes to people. I was at home and received a call and at the other end of the phone was somebody telling me that their death was imminent—and it was certainly attributable to the smoking of tobacco. Gay’s words of advice were simple: ‘I shouldn’t have smoked.’ She learnt too late to be able to stop herself from the habit, to be able to change her life outcome. That was two years ago—and, in terms of eight adjusted years of life, Gay should at least have another six. I am really sad that she is not here, and so many of her family and friends feel the same.

We are talking about millions and millions of Australians who have been impacted over the years by lung cancer. We can forgive the uptake rates that were happening at a time when smoking was so widely advertised and so widely accepted socially, but the facts have come out. We do know the truth these days. The clear and present danger of taking tobacco into your body and the risk of death that it brings to you from lung cancer can no longer be hidden.

I want to take this opportunity to put on the record the story of a former Labor Party member, a very loyal and long-serving member of the party—a gentleman by the name of Eddie Lawton, who resided at Green Point. I came to know Eddie through my years in the party on the Central Coast. I received a phone call from him about four or five months before he actually passed away from emphysema. Eddie rang and asked me to come to his home to speak with him because there was something important that he wanted to do. I was a little intrigued, I have to say, about what he might want to discuss. When I arrived I found that his sole purpose was to try to get a story in the local paper about the amazing care that he had received in the respiratory ward at Gosford Hospital. The lack of interest in the local newspaper at the time was very, very disappointing. Eddie did not get to tell his story, but I am glad to be able to tell it here and to acknowledge two things: firstly, that Eddie Lawton knew 100 per cent that his premature death was attributable to his smoking; and, secondly, the great care that is given in our public hospitals by those who work with people who are suffering all sorts of diseases, but particularly the ravaging loss of life that happens when somebody expires of lung cancer.

I want to also put on the record the reaction of my nieces and nephews and my own children to my youngest brother, Eamon, who continues to smoke. There is a plea from the entire family for him to cease. I do believe that, if he had lived in a context where smoking was less favoured and where tobacco advertising was less pervasive, there is a pretty good chance he might have got through his adolescence without being hooked on what is only going to cause his early death. This is the personal reality. This is the ultimate cost of smoking. On a macro level, the total quantifiable cost to the economy of smoking, including the costs associated with loss of life, is estimated at over $31 billion. So, if you need a financial argument to add to the human cost argument, there it is.

As someone who spoke to the legislation that established the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, I am delighted to see the agency’s badging on the ‘Quit’ television advertisements as part of the 2011 National Tobacco Campaign. The agency came into being last month, with Dr Rhonda Galbally as its transitional chief executive. The National Tobacco Campaign website,, lays out the importance of turning Australians away from smoking. Quitting at age 50 halves your risk of smoking related death, but quitting by age 30 avoids almost all of the excess risk. Stopping at age 60, 50, 40 or 30 can result in gains of, respectively, about three, six, nine or 10 years of life expectancy.

I am pleased to see the website with materials in different ethnic languages too. The strong antismoking culture and messages we have developed here in Australia over the last 20 years need to filter into ethnic communities. I have been privileged in previous years to travel to South-East Asia with my family, and my children noted with some considerable alarm the amazing number of smokers they saw in Asia by comparison with Australia. It is very, very concerning. With so many people travelling between South-East Asia and Australia, there is a possibility for that message to be disturbed, so we should push even harder to make sure that the message is clearly delivered in a range of languages to make it possible for all Australians to access it.

As a Labor member I also have regard to the prevalence of smoking among blue-collar workers. I am aware of research that found all three measures of socioeconomic status—education, income and relative socioeconomic disadvantage—are significantly related to the likelihood of smoking by both sexes. Of these three measures, relative social disadvantage was most strongly related to smoking status.

I might add that I am proud to be in a party that has chosen as a matter of principle not to take donations from tobacco companies. I encourage all other parties to take up this principled position, if they have not already, because it does not mean much to talk about the importance of preventative health in this place if you yourself are addicted to tobacco dollars. And no-one should underestimate the insidious ability of big tobacco to get its message through. On the Central Coast right now, the Alliance of Australian Retailers against plain packaging for cigarettes are running their anti-regulation radio ads. I find this quite disgraceful. The alliance home page carries a disclaimer that, frankly, says it all:

We are supported by British American Tobacco Australia Limited … Philip Morris Limited … and Imperial Tobacco Australia Limited …

Supported by? Owned by those companies to prosecute their self-interest would be much closer to the truth. I can only hope this preventative health campaign we are running is experiencing great success and that that of the opposition is experiencing its last gasp—to use a very appropriate expression.

A number of my male colleagues have spoken about the ubiquitous nature of tobacco advertising in sport in the 1970s and 1980s. We have certainly come a long way. The medical and health communities have been vocal in their support of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010. As you would expect, the Australian Council on Smoking and Health has welcomed the move. The AMA President, Dr Andrew Pesce, has also voiced his support. Dr Pesce has said:

The proposed new law will make it harder for tobacco companies to target teenagers and young Australians with attractive ads and promotions on the Internet.

It will help deter young people from taking up smoking and save the lives of thousands of Australians.

That is the AMA, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think on this issue those words are a resounding support for this bill. I support the bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Before I call the honourable member for Fowler, on behalf of all honourable members I would like to welcome to the gallery the mother of the honourable member for Robertson.