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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1600

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services) (4:20 PM) —When I saw this Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 on the Notice Paper, I thought: ‘There but for the grace of God.’ When I was about 10 years of age. or perhaps even younger—eight—we used to play tennis on a Saturday morning, my brother, Martin, my then best friend, Roman Iwachiw, and me. On one weekend we went to the overhead bridge between the two platforms at Guildford station and he introduced us to cigarettes. Martin and I, being the sons of a person who smoked 60 a day until last decade of his life, never touched them again, and Roman went on to smoke 60 day until the last decade or so himself. So that is an example of their pervasive availability at that time and the fact that people can be introduced to them at a very young age.

As the previous speaker indicated, there probably is a need, despite the fact that it is known by many people, to reiterate the actual health realities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States estimate that 443,000 people a year die in the United States as a result of cigarette smoking. That is related to an estimate that eight million Americans will die by 2030 from this cause. They note:

More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.

This is indeed a very serious area of public policy. Our nation has been at the forefront in this area. As early as 1973 we had banned television advertising, had action on excise, had workplace and public space bans, had advertising initiatives et cetera. The member for La Trobe, who spoke previously, indicated that this side of the House has made the decision not to take money from this fairly perfidious industry. So there has been very long-term action by governments in this country. Ironically, for all that was wrong with apartheid in South Africa, I think Australia and South Africa were amongst the countries that were most draconian with some of these measures many decades ago.

The background to this is a COAG agreement to try to halve the Indigenous rate of smoking and reduce the overall smoking rate in Australia by 10 per cent by 2018. As I said, the health figures are very persuasive: smoking causes 80 per cent of all lung cancer deaths and 20 per cent of all cancer deaths in general, such as mouth, bladder, kidney and stomach cancers.

In recent years the internet has been used for promotion and sales. In the same way that the tobacco companies have decided it is easier to move towards the Third World markets of China and Asia in general, as tough regulations have restricted their ability to make money in the West—there has been a very serious campaign to exploit those populations where governments are less active in countering them—there has been a tendency to use the internet. There are a series of citations I make on this matter. Obviously, this is more pronounced in the United States. An article in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics as early as 2004 stated:

Purchasing tobacco over the Internet provides anonymity for the purchaser. Cyberspace tobacco purchasers are perceived as risk-free. Similar to vending machines, there is no face-to-face contact for Internet purchasers. Many Internet tobacco vendors purport to implement some form of customer age verification process, but they are nominal efforts. Approximately 65 percent of domestic tobacco sales websites have an age verification protocol that consists of either typing in a birth date or clicking a button that says, “Yes, I’m at least 18 years of age.” Roughly 9 percent of the websites ask the purchaser to fax in a picture ID, and only 6 percent check the purchaser’s identification when the tobacco is delivered.

…            …            …

In addition to allowing easy and anonymous tobacco sales to youth, Internet vendors also undermine tobacco restrictions by avoiding excise taxes. Numerous studies show that an increase in the excise tax on tobacco results in a decrease in tobacco consumption. Empirically, studies indicate that a 10 percent increase in tobacco prices results in a 5 percent decrease in adult usage rates and a 7 percent decrease in tobacco consumption among youth under the age of eighteen.

In the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program’s policy brief, Kurt Ribisl and others commented:

(1) Smokers in jurisdictions with higher cigarette excise taxes have easy access to cheap cigarettes online, which may undermine their resolve to quit or reduce their smoking. Left unchecked, rising Internet cigarette sales have the potential to undermine decades of progress in reducing youth and adult smoking rates achieved by raising cigarette prices.

           …            …            …

These findings suggest that the Internet is being used as a vehicle to circumvent current tobacco control policies, allowing for tax evasion, youth access, and unrestricted marketing. The findings suggest a clear need for federal policies to prevent tax evasion, limit youth access, restrict marketing, and to effectively regulate a growing business that occurs across state and country lines.

The PR Newswire article titled ‘Congress approves bill curbing internet tobacco sales in victory for kids and taxpayers’ notes:

Voting 387 to 25, the U.S. House of Representatives today gave final congressional approval to the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act, legislation to curtail the growing sales of tax-evading, low-cost cigarettes and other tobacco products over the Internet and through the mail.

It said the PACT Act will:

  • Require Internet sellers to pay all federal, state … taxes …
  • Mandate that the age and identification of purchasers be checked at purchase and at delivery;
  • Require Internet vendors to comply with state and local laws …
  • Provide federal and state enforcement officials with new tools to block delivery of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products …

There is indeed concern, and attempts have been made to overcome the campaigns that we have seen. Where anonymity is reduced, evidence shows that there is a significant drop-off in usage. As I said earlier, the government of this country, for quite a number of decades, has not been slow with regard to action to counter cigarette smoking. Of course, this government in particular organised the first increase in tobacco excise above inflation for more than a decade, an increase of 25 per cent. It has cracked down on one of the last frontiers of tobacco advertising. In a world first, cigarettes will have to be sold in plain packaging. Furthermore, there have been moves to restrict Australian internet advertising of tobacco products. The government is injecting an extra nearly $28 million into hard-hitting antismoking campaigns.

It has been claimed that, if anything, this legislation is too moderate. By having only the same requirements as point of sale it is not going as far as it should in countering the very serious development where young people can purchase cigarettes without any evidence of their age whatsoever. There can be, through evasion of taxes, as I noted earlier, a very serious deterioration of the incentive to not smoke. According to market research studies commissioned on behalf of PM USA, more than 800 million cigarettes were sold to US consumers by internet sellers in 2008. That gives you, in a far bigger market with a far bigger population, some indication of the degree to which the internet can undermine these health initiatives.

I certainly congratulate the government for going down this line. We all know about the health impacts. As noted by the previous speaker, the Australian Medical Association has not been backward in supporting the government very strongly on this initiative. Dr Andrew Pesce said:

The Government’s strong action to restrict advertising of tobacco products must be backed by the Parliament.

Furthermore, he said:

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

Those are important statements in this area. I commend the legislation.