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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 944


Senator VIGOR(10.06) —by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The Air Navigation (Smoking) Amendment Bill seeks to guarantee all Australians clean air when in aeroplanes, and at aerodromes.

The Bill seeks to remove the hazards of both mainstream and sidestream smoking by requi-ring that all smoking in airports or aircraft shall be carried out in specially and separately ventilated areas. It seeks to remove the known risks associated with passive smoking.

Passive Smoking

Passive smokers are people forced to breathe the pollutant smoke from cigarettes. The dangers of this are vividly described in the publication of the National Health and Medical Research Council, called `Effects of Passive Smoking on Health':

Mainstream smoke is first inhaled by the smoker before being exhaled to contaminate the air. Sidestream smoke directly enters the environment and comprises the greater component of smoke generated by the cigarette.

The lighted cigarette has been described as `a prolific chemical factory' producing more than 2,000 compounds. Of most concern are the several known human carcinogens and the numerous suspected carcinogens. Other toxic compounds include carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons.

Many of the compounds are found in substantially higher proportions in sidestream smoke than in mainstream smoke.

Absorption of the constituents of tobacco smoke in significant amounts by passive smokers has been clearly demonstrated.

Typical indoor ventilation is inadequate to remove these pollutants.

The report goes on to describe the hazards to which people are exposed through other people's smoking habits:

1. The inhalation of passive smoke by healthy indivi-duals and those with pre-existing respiratory disease commonly causes acute irritation effects in the upper and, to a lesser extent, the lower respiratory tracts.

2. There are sufficient data to indicate that asthmatics may suffer acute effects following exposure to passive smoke. Those susceptible individuals with airways hyperactivity or atopy but not clinically asthmatic in particular should be investigated for the effects of passive smoking.

3. Few data are available regarding the effects upon both the upper and lower respiratory tract of chronic passive smoking in healthy individuals.

The final recommendations of the National Health and Medical Research Council report `Effects of Passive Smoking on Health' read as follows:

Council recommends that, in view of the evidence that passive smoking increases the risk of at least some diseases of childhood and adulthood, particularly disorders and diseases of the respiratory system, the following policies should be considered by Health Authorities in Australia as means of protecting the health of non-smokers.

1. Development of procedures, regulations, or laws facilitating or requiring the restriction or prohibition of smoking:

a. within the work environment. The available evidence indicates that exposure to passive smoking is, on average, substantially higher at work than at home. An atmosphere free of tobacco smoke should be regarded as the workplace norm. Employers should be reminded of obligations to provide a safe working environment.

b. In enclosed public places, hospitals, restaurants, and transport. In recommending this policy, Council notes the apparently successful approach in some States of declaring smoking to be prohibited in all public and work places unless specifically permitted.

2. Explicit inclusion in smoking-related health education material of information about the known or suspected effects of passive smoking upon health. This material should assist decisions in the home (including decisions about ventilation) as well as in the workplace and in public places.

In making these recommendations, Council acknowledges that further research is necessary to confirm and elaborate these effects of passive smoking upon health. However, mindful of the delays involved, historically, in both accepting and acting upon the evidence of the serious health consequences of active smoking, Council considers that there is now sufficient evidence pertaining to the effects of passive smoking to require prudent public health action of the kind recommended above.

The Bill implements the unanimous resolution in January 1986 of the Executive Board of the World Health Assembly, which affirmed:

. . . `tobacco smoking and the use of tobacco in all its forms is incompatible with the attainment of health for all by the year 2000-

and urged-

those member States which have not yet done so to implement smoking control strategies to . . . ensure that non-smokers receive effective protection, to which they are entitled, from involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke in enclosed public places, restaurants, transport, and places of work and entertainment.

Smoking in confined spaces is as dangerous as playing Russian roulette. There may be only one chance in 1,000, there may be only one chance in 10,000 depending on your condition, that you will suffer a consequent major disease. It is like Russian roulette played with a magazine with only one bullet in 1,000 or 10,000. If you get the bullet, you are dead. That is the real meaning of the term `low risk' in this context. Incidentally it is one bullet in six for smokers.

Background

This Bill implements the 18 December 1986 promise of the Minister for Aviation, Mr Peter Morris, to legislate for the prohibition of smoking on certain domestic flights. It is also in accordance with the section of the ALP's health platform adopted at the 1986 conference, calling on the Government to `further restrict smoking on public transport, including domestic aircraft, and restrict smoking in public places to define zones'.

The 18 December statement of the Minister for Aviation announced a Cabinet decision authorising him to proceed to legislate for the prohibition of smoking on domestic flights of less than 90 minutes.

There was general expectation that this matter would be attended to early this session. After all the Minister's Press Release said:

The government has received many requests from airline passengers for smoke-free flights of less than 90 minutes.

The number of passengers who request smoking seats on aircraft has declined steadily over recent years.

On some flights, almost nine out of every ten passengers demand non-smoking seating.

Smoking is already prohibited on nearly all other forms of public transport.

The Minister's statement drew warm praise throughout Australia and yet the Government seems to be running away from its policy and announced intentions, allegedly because Ansett and Australian Airlines have not demanded the legislation loudly enough. However, both airlines did indicate that they would support and implement non-smoking on flights if the Government lived up to its responsibility and enacted the legislative restrictions.

Kendall Airlines, which carries nearly a quarter of a million passengers per year, made the decision in 1979 to have only non-smoking flights. This policy has met with enthusiastic consumer acceptance, and very few complaints have ever been made.

At the same time, thousands of dollars have been saved because air-conditioning filters do not require nearly the same levels of maintenance as when nicotine and smoke particulates clog them. In addition, the interiors of aircraft are not discoloured so readily and the basic costs of cleaning the planes after use are lower.

There is also the reduced danger of fire on board while in flight.

I believe that the example of Kendall Airlines is a salutary one for the industry, and that with East-West so keen to follow its example in a deregulated aviation environment, the vast majority of travellers will be able to enjoy the type of service that meets their requirements.

East-West Airlines also has made strong representations to the Government to completely prohibit smoking on all flights, irrespective of their length.

Any government worth its salt would have taken the policy decision on the overwhelming evidence now available, and acted to implement its intention straight away. When the matter in question is a prominent part of its health policy, the current attitude becomes even more perplexing.

Honourable senators should reflect on the purpose of being in government if Ministers are unwilling to make straightforward decisions and ensure that they are put into practice.

Purpose of the Bill

This Bill is an expression of Australian Democrats policy that `prevention is better than cure'. In this context it is also a prime example of `keeping bastards honest' or, should I say, `keeping wimps honest', for the Government seems incapable of taking on the tobacco lobby in the interests of the people of Australia.

A Democrat government would face the challenge of producing a healthier Australia, and would not flinch at attacking the antisocial use of a drug and its pushers.

That is the type of government Australia needs.

This legislation, if enacted, will improve the health of passengers and staff travelling on commercial airlines.

It will relieve staff of a long-standing problem which is recognised in the current industrial award of flight attendants which allows six days' leave a year specifically for upper respiratory tract infections caused largely by continued exposure to cigarette smoke.

It will protect the airlines from the consequences of legal action likely to be taken by staff and passengers if their health is endangered by passive smoking on air services.

It will eliminate a very common cause of fires and general damage to aeroplanes.

It will cut down the maintenance bills of the airlines and enable them to offer a better service to customers in aeroplanes whose interiors retain their initial polish.

Provisions of the Bill

The principle behind this legislation is that no Australian should be exposed to the risks inherent in passive smoking in enclosed spaces. If airlines want to designate planes solely for the smokers and perhaps charge them for the extra costs of cleaning and maintenance, they can try to get cabin crews who do not object to smoke inhalation.

There is no prohibition on such practices, but they will have to occur in circumstances where the 80 per cent or more of customers who do not smoke are not endangered.

The specific provision is that sections of a plane can only be designated as smoking bays if their ventilation is such that it is not possible for smoke in the air in the space to enter the air in any other part of the aircraft.

It is theoretically possible to design planes in which more than one major air-conditioning system is present. However, this would add greatly to the weight of the basic aircraft, and reduce the capacity to take on cargo. It will be up to the airlines to assess the economics of such an approach, and to decide whether the extra cleaning and maintenance costs in any smoking section would require a two-tier fare structure. Quite possibly, the airlines will decide that the structural re-arrangements for two types of seating on one plane are not economically viable.

In that case, it is open to them to run fully smoking planes on a cost recovery basis, alongside the fully non-smoking planes that most travellers want.

The Bill provides a similar requirement for smoking rooms at aerodromes. It is apparently quite an easy matter to design the air conditioning at aerodromes to ensure that smoking and non-smoking sections are separate for the purposes of ventilation.

It is only in recent years that air quality and general safety of the cabin environment have been thoroughly researched either in Australia or abroad.

United States Experience

In the United States, Congressional hearings in 1983-84 revealed contradictory information on airliner cabin air quality.

Flight attendants and members of the general public testified about inadequate ventilation and other discomforting cabin environment problems. Airline industry and federal regulatory agency personnel suggested that current cabin standards were adequate to protect the health and safety of travellers.

Under Public Law 98-96, Congress required the National Academy of Sciences to enter into a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration to examine cabin air characteristics and various safety precautions and make recommendations for improvements.

The Committee of Airliner Cabin Air Quality conducted an 18-month study of air quality, cabin environment, emergency procedures, flight regulations and air travel records. The Committee found that the health and safety issues could not be separated.

It made a major report `The Airlines Cabin Environment' which was published by the National Academy Press in 1986. The Committee noted that the flow rate of outside air varied from below 7 cubic feet per minute-cfm-per economy-class passenger to 50 cfm per first class passenger. Cockpit ventilation rates were often as high as 150 cfm per crew member because of the cooling required for the electronic equipment. The levels for economy-class passengers were adequate for oxygen supply but not necessarily for proper ventilation.

The Committee suggested that more effort was required to keep down cabin ozone and microbial aerosol concentrations. It also recommended the introduction of:

A ban on smoking on all domestic commercial flights, for four major reasons:

To lessen irritation and discomfort to passengers and crew

To reduce potential health hazards to cabin crew associated with environmental tobacco smoke

To eliminate the possibility of fires caused by cigarettes

To bring the cabin air quality into line with established standards for other closed environments.

Environmental tobacco smoke-ETS-is the combination of exhaled mainstream smoke and the smoke generated by smouldering cigarettes. The Committee concluded that `ETS is a hazardous substance and is the most frequent source of complaint about aircraft air quality'.

It pointed out that the high concentration of ETS generated in the smoking zone could not be dissipated by increasing ventilation in that zone. Neither flight attendants nor non-smoking passengers were immune from its effects. Even a quite high ventilation rate of 14-15 cfm per passenger meant that as much as 50 per cent of the cabin air was being recirculated and quite possibly full of contaminants.

The Committee noted the extra dangers to flight attendants who were pregnant and said that it was `highly possible that eye, nose and throat irritation will increase among airline passengers as outside air ventilation rates are decreased and recirculation is increased to improve fuel efficiency'. It added that the amount of air required to get the smoking zone into reasonable shape `could exceed the engine bleed capacity and in all cases would reduce the range of the aircraft, the payload, or both. Injection of large volumes of air into the cabin would create unacceptable air velocities and result in passenger discomfort'.

The Committee was left with the conclusion that only a ban on smoking on all domestic commercial flights could solve the very real problem of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke-passive smoking-and its associated risks.

Australian Experience

Similar work has been carried out in Australia. In November 1986 we saw released an occupational health and safety study of in-flight duties, commissioned by Ansett and Australian Airlines as part of award negotiations with the Australian Flight Attendants Association.

The study, carried out by the Ergonomist Consulting Group Pty Ltd of Melbourne, was the first time that the working environment and conditions of cabin staff have been examined so comprehensively.

The study found that the temperature and humidity inside the cabin were basically acceptable. However, it agreed with the complaints of flight attendants, equally forcefully expressed by smokers and non-smokers, about problems arising from cigarette smoke.

The most common concern was about the accumulation of contaminants above shoulder height, just where flight attendants could not avoid it as they worked. Wearers of contact lenses were liable to experience irritation at work.

In fact, the report stated:

The only matter of significance found during the study concerned the quality of the air breathed during the flight and of the presence of contaminants likely to impair performance, health and (indirectly) safety. The dominating factor was cigarette smoke.

The report concluded:

We recommend that operators seriously consider a joint agreement to curtail the use of tobacco on all flights of less than 60 minutes duration as an intermediate step towards the eventual complete restriction of smoking on aircraft.

It is not surprising that the latest industrial award of the Australian Flight Attendants Association, which has been campaigning strongly since 1983 for the elimination of the smoking hazard from aeroplanes, includes provision for 6 days sick leave each year specifically for upper respiratory infections.

An important fact that emerges from all the work on ventilation is that the environmental tobacco smoke on flights of very long duration is even worse than on those of short duration. This is because of the constant recycling of contaminated air. The ventilation rates are kept down to conserve fuel and allow as great a payload as possible.

Some industry estimates are that only 10 per cent of the air in the cabin is being expelled through the bleed holes at any time. This is worsened when nicotine starts to clog these minute air exchange facilities. The longer flights are, the more the cabin environment consists of recycled air because of this and the ventilation rates dictated by a desire to economise on fuel.

Consequently, there is no justification whatsoever for allowing smoking on flights of long duration if they are to be curtailed on other flights on health grounds. This legislation deals with the problem thoroughly and not in some half-hearted manner which continues to put the health of flight attendants and passengers at risk.

Dr Paul Magnus of the National Heart Foundation of Australia has stated that air-conditioners would have to operate at gale force to reduce environmental tobacco smoke pollution to safe levels. All the trends within the airline industry appear to be in the other direction for reasons of cost containment. In fact, on the most recent equipment less of the particulate matter is being filtered out than previously. Once there is a buildup of environmental tobacco smoke in the rear of a cabin, staff find that eye and nasal problems begin.

Because there is lower oxygen at 35,000 feet, stinging of the eyes persists for the whole of the journey when someone has been unlucky enough to suffer in-flight harm.

A Queensland flight attendant of 14 years service has written to me complaining that she is always working in the smoking sector:

Apart from the well-documented problems with passive smoking, I have witnessed flight attendants who have suffered health problems, with sinuses and sore eyes.

The attendant added:

I feel that as an individual I have the right to work in a smoke-free environment.

This is precisely the point made in a letter to honourable senators from the National Heart Foundation last November which spoke of `proper policies to protect smokers and non-smokers and improve general health and working conditions as restricting smoking in the workplace and other public places'. That letter goes on to say:

The National Heart Foundation of Australia is deeply concerned about the effects of smoking, both active and passive, on the community. Smoking is the major avoidable risk factor for cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease and several important and fatal cancers. Passive smoking increases the risks of serious harm, such as lung infections in young children, lung infections in children and adults, lung cancer, and a worsening of health in those with existing heart and lung disease. Although active smoking is by far the greater concern, passive smoking is an important public health issue in its own right. Furthermore, passive smoking is not a matter of choice in most instances, and often occurs against the expressed wishes of the non-smoker.

These views are supported by other leading medical scientific agencies such as the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Thoracic Society of Australia, the World Health Organisation, the United States Surgeon General and the United States National Academy of Sciences.

The National Health and Medical Research Council stated last year, in its influential report `Effects of Passive Smoking on Health', that because of the evidence of passive smoking increasing the risks of diseases of the respiratory system and other disorders `an atmosphere free of tobacco smoke should be regarded as the workplace norm. Employers should be reminded of obligations to provide a safe working environment'.

Conclusion

This legislation will achieve precisely this for the airlines. It also provides better travelling conditions for airline passengers while cutting the maintenance and cleaning costs that the airlines incur. It complements the steps being taken around the nation to provide smoke-free services on long distance coaches and trains.

The legislation is sensitive to the civil liberties of smokers and non-smokers alike, and deserves support from all honourable senators prepared to take on the responsibility to do what is right without fear or favour.

This Bill is right. It will save lives, it will save money for the airlines, it will save money for the taxpayer, it will save much discomfort for crew and passengers alike. I urge honourable senators to support it, for the sake of the people whom they represent.

Debate (on motion by Senator Robertson) adjourned.