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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1597

Ms SMYTH (4:08 PM) —I am very pleased to be able to speak on such an important issue in this place. Certainly, this issue has been foremost in the mind of the government in dealing with what is still, regrettably, a very significant health concern to so many Australians, particularly many Australians of fairly young ages. We know that, as a community, we need to think very seriously indeed about the prevention of illness. Issues of communication culture, health culture and their influence on the health habits of our community are in many ways just as significant as considerations of the treatment and medications which are available to people who have become ill in our community.

This Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 very clearly will have a significant effect on behaviour and on health culture in general. It will have an effect on the means of communication, particularly to young people. We have heard quite a lot during the debate today about the concerns of many members of this place about young people in their respective communities who succumb to the effects of smoking and ultimately suffer the health consequences later in their lives. We have seen the effectiveness of curbing tobacco advertising in our community over the last decade or so and it is appropriate to now extend these efforts to internet advertising, particularly given the prevalence of that advertising and the regularity with which many people in our community come into contact with such advertising.

We know that tobacco smoking remains the leading preventable cause of premature death and disease in Australia. We know that smoking leads to a very wide range of diseases, including many types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, chest and lung illnesses, and stomach ulcers. We have heard the Cancer Council’s estimates that smoking claims the lives of 15,000 or more Australians every year and costs our economy around $31.5 billion. I was thinking about this figure in terms of the number of people that I represent in my electorate of La Trobe and it would equate to over 16 per cent of the electors in my seat. When I think about the sheer numbers of people and of the families, dependants, friends and colleagues of all of those people, who are undoubtedly affected by the loss of life that that occasions, it is disturbing indeed.

There are a great many statistics that can be discussed in this debate, which have been discussed and which will continue to be discussed. It is important that they be quoted regularly because they are so terribly alarming. It is really an unthinkable number of people. Our loss of those people from our community has very lasting and devastating impacts. We know that over 750,000 hospital bed days are attributable to tobacco related disease. In the context of our very recent and current discussions about how we are aiming to reform our national health system, it is a sobering reminder of the significance of such a preventable disease and such a prevalent cause of disease in our society.

This government knows the value of disease prevention. That is why we have made such a serious commitment to primary care through our national health reforms and it is why we are making such a concerted effort to curb cigarette smoking through a variety of measures. It is also why those of us on this side of the House will not accept political donations from the tobacco industry. That is a very significant point.

The Cancer Council estimates that 15 per cent of smokers do not smoke every day. That group of people includes new smokers who have not yet established regular smoking patterns and who might regard themselves as occasional or social smokers. In targeting smoking rates, this bill is very likely to benefit those in that category identified in the Cancer Council’s research. If we have the means of limiting the attraction of smoking for people who are at risk of taking up smoking or ex-smokers who have recently quit and who might otherwise be influenced to start smoking again then we really must use it.

The report of the Cancer Council into the smoking behaviours of Australian secondary students in 2005 was particularly troubling. It found that experience with smoking becomes more common as adolescents progress through secondary school. In 2005 around 84 per cent of 12-year-olds had no experience with smoking. But this proportion, unfortunately, decreased with the age of those surveyed. The research determined that only 45 per cent of 17-year-olds had no experience with smoking. Of those surveyed, across all age groups, around 32 per cent of current smokers smoked daily. It is worth bearing that in mind when we are talking about secondary school students. The proportion of current smokers that smoked on a daily basis increased from 17 per cent among the 12-year-olds to a very troubling 37 per cent among 17-year-olds.

We know that young Australians who are aged 25 to 29 have by far the highest rate of smoking among Australians. In 2007, the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer estimated that some 28 per cent of adults in that age group were smokers. It found that in my home state of Victoria, in 2007, some 19 per cent of the adult population were smokers. It found that more than 80 per cent of smokers became addicted to cigarettes as teenagers and that the average age when people took up smoking was, at that stage, 15.9 years. The consequences of that in health terms are obviously very significant, assuming that all of those remain heavily addicted to smoking throughout their adult lives.

The centre also found that 19 per cent of young adults in the 18 to 24 age category were smokers and that 23 per cent of those aged 30 to 39 were smokers. Obviously these are extremely troubling statistics and any measures that we can implement to try to address those statistics are fairly welcome.

This bill is an important step in reaching the targets set under the COAG National Healthcare Agreement for reducing smoking rates by 10 per cent by 2018 and halving the Indigenous smoking rate. It will be important in addressing the health culture associated with cigarettes, particularly for those young people who may otherwise take up smoking or progress to heavier use of cigarettes. We know that the AMA has given its support resoundingly to the measures proposed in this bill. Indeed, its president has remarked:

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. Banning or limiting tobacco industry advertising is vital if we are going to help people to quit smoking or stop taking up the killer habit.

We know that inroads have been made into the number of people smoking daily in Australia during the last decade, and in many ways that is very directly linked to the harsher measures imposed on advertising. We have seen that more than half a million fewer people are smoking than were smoking a decade ago. Unfortunately, we know that there are around three million Australians who still smoke. We certainly know and have heard regularly throughout this debate that messages and images promoting the use of tobacco products can normalise tobacco use. They can increase the uptake of smoking by youth and act as a significant disincentive to quit.

Since 1992 most forms of advertising of tobacco products have been banned under the act. For consistency, and to reflect the changes in technology and the means of communication of many people, particularly young people, and to ensure that our act reflects Australian society in 2011, it is important that this bill’s measures be implemented swiftly.

The bill is part of the government’s promised package of measures targeting smoking, and they are significant measures. They include record funding being committed to targeted antismoking campaigns aimed at cutting smoking in very high-risk and disadvantaged groups; the first increase in tobacco excise in over a decade; a requirement that cigarettes be sold in plain packaging; and now the restriction on internet advertising of tobacco products.

This bill will have a very significant focus on retailers who advertise their products without required health warnings and as being ‘tax-free’, therefore advertising ‘cheap’ cigarettes. It is intended to address the gap presently in place which does not cover internet advertising, and amends the act to specifically include advertising over both the internet and other electronic media.

Following, hopefully, this bill’s implementation, regulations will also be developed under the act in order to prescribe specific requirements for the advertising of tobacco products. These will include the provision of health warnings, warnings about age restrictions on the sale of those products, information about fees and charges payable in relation to those products, and particularly age restricted access systems for access to tobacco ads. These measures are very consistent with the government’s strong approach to curbing cigarette smoking and restricting tobacco advertising. We know that effects are very significant for those in the 24-29 age group in particular, who have continued to take up smoking and remain smokers at an alarmingly high rate, despite the good work that has been done in trying to limit tobacco advertising in recent decades. We certainly know that prevention, most of the time, is better than cure and that there need to be very significant efforts put into changing the culture associated with tobacco use in this country. I am particularly pleased to be able to speak to a bill which will have a fairly large impact upon my own electorate and on the young people whom I represent in this place.