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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1602

Ms PARKE (4:30 PM) —I welcome the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010, and its provisions which clarify and strengthen the application of tobacco advertising and promotion restrictions that will now apply to the internet and other new media communications technologies.

This reform institutes a sensible change that was contemplated within the parliament as far back as 2002. At that time a review of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act, under the guidance of the then parliamentary secretary for health, Trish Worth, seemed to conclude that no change was required. I say ‘seemed’ because no report was prepared as a result of the review and the inquiry submissions were not made public.

In any case, it is through this government’s commitment to a substantially stronger and more effective preventative health program that we have before us a bill that ensures that there is a specific offence to cover the advertisement or promotion of tobacco products through the internet or other electronic media, including future technologies, where the promotion is non-compliant, and ensures regulations can be made to restrict and control any such promotion, including the requirements that pertain to health warnings and age restrictions.

These changes add to the range of measures the government has implemented to further decrease the rate of smoking and to further reduce the attraction of smoking in Australia. This includes an increase of 25 per cent in tobacco excise—the first increase in more than a decade. This measure alone has a double purpose: it adds a significant price disincentive to the purchase of tobacco products, and it will generate an additional $5 billion over four years to be directly invested in better health and hospitals through the National Health and Hospitals Network Fund.

This government is also responsible for the introduction of the world-first initiative requiring that cigarettes be sold in plain packaging, and for the rollout of a new $27.8 million anti-smoking campaign. Together, these measures are part of the government’s resolve when it comes to improving preventative health, and when it comes to making further headway in relation to reducing the severe public health impacts and costs of smoking.

Of course I acknowledge that the tobacco control position in Australia is a comparatively good one. The latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health show that daily smoking rates for people over 14 have fallen from 19.5 per cent in 2001 to 16.6 per cent in 2007. That rate is one of the lowest in the world, and has been a contributing factor in Australia achieving one of the highest average life expectancies.

But the changes that this bill introduces are important because they seek to head off the move by tobacco companies and some retailers to promote tobacco products through the internet and other electronic media. This is necessary because there has been a growth in promotion through such media. This was noted by the President of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, Mike Daube, who said:

Cigarettes are now being heavily promoted on the internet, and there are serious concerns that both online advertising and social networking sites are being used to promote tobacco to young people.

It is in the nature of companies to explore the promotional opportunities represented by new media technologies, and of course it is particularly attractive in the case of a product like tobacco, whose advertising and promotion is strongly curtailed. Tobacco companies have a history of seeking new ways to promote their products in technical compliance with the letter of the law, even where that is clearly not in keeping within the law’s spirit.

And as we make these further changes let us remember, that notwithstanding the special nature of tobacco—that is, a product that when used as intended, kills people—the companies that produce it have made it their business, over time, to deny both that their products are addictive and that they are injurious to health. Let us remember what was set down clearly in the National Tobacco Strategy 2004-2009 which stated:

Tobacco is a unique consumer item. Tobacco products cause premature death and disability when used as intended by the manufacturer; and they are addictive. No company trying to introduce cigarettes into Australia today would succeed in getting them onto the market.

For these reasons, this bill is naturally supported by the National Preventative Health Taskforce and the Australian Medical Association.

I am very happy to say that since 2004 the Labor Party has not accepted donations from tobacco companies. The Liberal and National parties, however, continue to accept very substantial political donations from the two largest tobacco companies that operate in Australia: Philip Morris and British American Tobacco. Indeed, these companies are among the most generous donors to the coalition parties, and few companies donate more widely to their various branches and candidates.

The approach of the Leader of the Opposition, who of course was previously the health minister, has been to say that this is a legal product and there is no good reason for the Liberal Party to distinguish between tobacco companies and other legitimate corporate citizens. I think that is a fairly convenient position. The quote I gave earlier from the National Tobacco Strategy 2004-2009 makes it clear that tobacco is a product that needs to be distinguished from other products and that big tobacco is a class of corporate citizen that need to be distinguished from other corporate citizens.

The fact is that cigarettes are a legal form of highly-addictive and highly-effective poison. Tobacco-related deaths account for approximately 15 per cent of all deaths and 80 per cent of all drug-related deaths in Australia. In the 2008 report titled The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004-05, commissioned as part of the Commonwealth’s national drug strategy, the total social cost of smoking in the financial year 2004-05 was estimated at $31.5 billion. This represents 56 per cent of the total cost of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use. In 2004-05, smoking caused 14,900 deaths; was responsible for 753,618 hospital bed days, and for $669 million in hospital costs. For these reasons tobacco control is one of the most important areas of domestic policy.

Tobacco control needs to be exercised without the influence, or even the perception of influence, of big tobacco. The success we have had so far in controlling and regulating Australia’s deadliest product, and our progress towards the steady decrease in tobacco consumption, has occurred despite the often implacable resistance of tobacco companies. In illustrating big tobacco’s resistance to regulation, Konrad Jamrozik, an internationally recognised expert on tobacco control, made the following remarks about big tobacco, in his role as the Professor of Evidence-based Health Care, University of Queensland:

Its standard tactics are to debate almost endlessly the scientific evidence on the harm caused by its products, to cultivate (and regularly pay) spokespeople in other industries and in academia, and to purchase influence by making substantial donations to any political party that will accept them.

Sadly, Professor Jamrozik passed away last year after a professional life in which he had given so much to the antismoking cause. He was a life member and former Chairman of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health. He did work for the World Health Organisation in Geneva and in other countries. His contributions were recognised through his receipt of the inaugural President’s Award from the National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Nigel Gray Award, which is given for Excellence in International Tobacco Control. The work undertaken by Professor Konrad Jamrozik throughout his career helped to save thousands of lives. It is only appropriate that in the passage of this bill we remember and honour him.

The Howard government ratified the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the FCTC, in February 2005. Article 5(3) of the convention states:

In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.

Article 13(2) states:

Each Party shall in accordance with its constitution or constitutional principles undertake a comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

Is it unrealistic or unreasonable to think that on this basis the Liberal and National parties would themselves refuse sponsorship by big tobacco? Tobacco control is not a matter of moral nicety and nor is it about playing politics. Tobacco control in this country must be exercised without the slightest hint or perception of influence for the simple reason that cigarettes cost this country so much. Each year they cost us thousands of deaths; each year they cost us billions of dollars.

Some opposite may point out that, notwithstanding their reliance on money from tobacco companies, Australia’s tobacco control record is a comparatively good one. No-one can dispute that, but the real question is: could it be better? Could there be fewer deaths and are there ways in which we could lower the social and economic costs of tobacco? Of course there are. And let us not assume that our progress when it comes to tobacco control, cigarette use and the death and disease and enormous expense that flow from this poisonous, addictive product is assured—because there are those who actually believe that we should retreat from the achievements we have made.

In 2006, the Victorian branch of the Young Liberal Movement took a proposal to their annual conference calling for an end to the prohibition on tobacco advertising. The explanatory text stated:

Prohibitions on tobacco advertising are an insult to the intelligence of the ordinary Australian.

One wonders not only about the intelligence of those conference participants but also about the guidance they had received from their political elders in a political party which relies so significantly on money from big tobacco.

Finally, I simply acknowledge that the Labor Party was wrong to accept money from big tobacco up until 2004. We confronted that error and we made the change: we quit big tobacco money. The Liberal and National parties are wrong to continue receiving a significant amount of their funding from tobacco companies. This bill is another step in the steady march towards a day when smoking tobacco will be looked back upon as an historical oddity and its terrible impact on the health of Australians and on the cost of health care will be a thing of the past.

Debate (on motion by Mr Marles) adjourned.