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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 3204


Senator SIEWERT (1:18 PM) —Let me start by saying that the Australian Greens welcome this legislation—the Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2010 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2010. It is a key recommendation of the Preventative Health Taskforce and has been endorsed by bodies such as Cancer Council Australia, the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Nursing Federation, the Heart Foundation and the International Union Against Cancer.

Tobacco use, as we know, is the single biggest preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. Over three million people—around 18 per cent of Australians aged 14 years and over—still smoke, with almost 2.9 million smoking on a daily basis. Around half of these smokers who continue to smoke for prolonged periods will die early—half of them in middle age, when children and grandchildren depend on them and while they are in the most productive years of their working lives.

Between 1950, when clear evidence of the dangers of smoking became available, and 2008, more than 900,000 Australians died because they smoked. My grandmother was one of them. This toll will exceed the million mark within a few years. With a huge body of evidence now providing clear evidence on the most effective means of reducing smoking, both at the population level and in clinical settings, there is no reason to allow the smoking epidemic to continue for another 60 years. If the prevalence of daily smoking is reduced to nine per cent or less by 2020, experts believe that smoking will continue to decline quite rapidly until it is no longer one of Australia’s major public health issues. Achieving this target will require a dramatic reduction in the number of children taking up smoking and a doubling of the percentage of smokers trying to quit.

Smoking resulted in an estimated 15,511 deaths in 2003, and the cost to the Australian community was around $12 billion—and that is in tangible, net costs in 2004-05. This figure includes items such as spending on healthcare services, subsidies for drugs for people sick because of smoking, and extra spending on staff to replace people ill and away from work or who have left the workforce because of smoking related illnesses. Intangible costs in 2003 totalled more than $19 billion. While the intangible costs of tobacco, such as the loss of enjoyment of life and the pain and suffering of smokers and their families and friends, are not things that can be easily measured, they must—absolutely must—be taken into consideration and cannot be ignored.

A report by the Department of Health and Ageing assessing the returns on investment in public health in Australia estimated that the 30 per cent decline in smoking between 1975 and 1995 had already prevented over 400,000 premature deaths and saved costs of around $8.4 billion. Modelling on the impact of reductions in smoking on healthcare expenditure indicates the potential for substantial further savings. Now, 25 years after the introduction of the first series of policies to discourage smoking, the use of tobacco products in Australia is at a historic low. But in this country we are still left with the scenario in which a product remains on sale which is addictive, kills one in two regular users, causes cancers and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and has myriad other harmful consequences. It harms non-users and damages the health of children and the unborn child.

In 2010, some 60 years since we had unequivocal evidence about the dangers of smoking, cigarettes will still kill some 15,000 Australians, including 1,200 in my home state of Western Australia. Smoking remains our leading cause of preventable death. It causes 20 per cent of Indigenous deaths. The toll from smoking remains greater than the combined toll from road deaths, illicit drugs, suicides, murders, poisonings, diabetes, drownings and HIV-AIDS. We should be asking ourselves why it has taken 40 years to ban tobacco advertising. Why, until now, has there been no tobacco tax increase beyond the CPI for a decade when it was demonstrable that this was the most effective means of reducing smoking?

The Greens support this legislation, but we also call on the government to be a powerful voice amongst international leaders. We must be vigilant about the growing epidemic in developing countries as cigarette manufacturers cynically focus their attention from the developed to the developing nations, where there are fewer constraints on smoking and the communities are less aware of the dangers. Although smoking killed 120 million people in the 20th century, it will kill a staggering one billion people in the 21st century if nothing is done to check the increase in smoking in other countries.

Back home, we need increased funding for well-run public education and further support for disadvantaged groups. We acknowledge the recent further commitment of $5 million in funding for Quitline, but the Greens believe that more has to be done to target the most vulnerable groups of smokers. Smoking rates are rapidly declining among the more affluent but continue to be substantially higher among groups with lower levels of education and those living in disadvantaged areas. Indeed the decline in smoking rates among adults living in the most disadvantaged areas appears to have levelled off. In other words, we need to refocus efforts there.

Smoking rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more than double those in the rest of the community. Among children living in households where at least one person smokes, those who live in disadvantaged areas are almost four times more likely to be exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke indoors than children living in some of our more well-to-do suburbs. Almost one in five pregnant women report smoking during pregnancy, including 42 per cent of teenagers and 52 per cent of Indigenous women. This poses risks to the mothers and has long-term and far-reaching effects on their offspring.

Quitting smoking provides extra funds in individual and family budgets which could be directed towards other household expenditure. The levels of improved fitness that result from giving up smoking can help people to make other lifestyle changes. Given that spending on tobacco products can increase financial stress, prevent the accumulation of wealth and contribute to the perpetuation of intergenerational poverty, tobacco control should be regarded not just as a health policy but also as a key strategy to help socially disadvantaged areas.

We can and should be doing more. The Preventative Health Taskforce calls for all remaining forms of promotion of tobacco, including marketing at the retail level, to be eliminated. They also call for a mechanism for the regulation of tobacco products. They say that all retailers of tobacco products should be licensed, with a limit on the number and types of retail outlets. They say that no tobacco products should be sold to children, that consumer information should be better targeted and that there is no gain in simply continuing a national advertising campaign and believing you can tick the box and move on. We need to focus on getting the right message to the people who need to hear it most. This includes ensuring appropriate programs and services are in place for disadvantaged groups.

The public, particularly children, need to be protected from exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. I note that laws on that issue differ around the country. To further reduce smoking requires a dramatic reduction in both the number of children taking up smoking and an increase in the number of people trying to quit. In Australia, the challenge is to halve the rate of smoking uptake and double the percentage of adult smokers who quit each year. If this could be achieved, smoking prevalence will reduce to that nine per cent by 2020, which I mentioned earlier, and then continue to decline quite rapidly.

In addition the Greens support the recommendations made by the Preventative Health Taskforce. We want to see further regulation of the tobacco industry with measures such as ending all forms of promotion including point-of-sale displays. We want to see an increase in the frequency, reach and intensity of education programs that personalise the health risks of tobacco and increase a sense of urgency about quitting among people in all social groups. We must ensure that all smokers in contact with the Australian healthcare system are identified and given the strongest and most effective available encouragement and support to quit. We must provide access to information, treatment and services for people in highly disadvantaged groups who suffer a disproportionate level of tobacco related harm. We also believe there must be an increase in the understanding about processes of social diffusion against smoking—how being a non-smoker and smoking cessation can become more ‘contagious’—so that these processes can be accelerated among the groups that are still smoking at significantly higher levels.

We believe these sorts of initiatives are absolutely essential. Like Senator Xenophon we support the funding of these measures through the additional funding collected through this increase in tax. Every year, 30 per cent to 40 per cent of smokers attempt to quit, but only one in 10 of these attempts to quit tends to succeed. Cancer Council Australia and many others tell us that tobacco control measures will reduce relapse rates and can help intending quitters to break their addiction. We know that, in the past, there has been resistance to progressive tobacco control. Some of it was based on a set of attitudes that were clearly unsupported by evidence and were based on what we think were poor excuses for inaction. While coordinated efforts to reduce the disease burden of tobacco have made Australia a challenging market for the tobacco industry compared with nations where there are fewer controls, almost one in five Australians continues to smoke, with Australian households spending more than $10 billion on tobacco products per year.

Finally, Cancer Council Australia say that increasing the price of tobacco products will decrease consumption in low-income groups more than in high-income groups. They point out that tax increases can cause financial stress for people on low incomes who continue to smoke. We believe that a proportion of the revenue from this tax should be given to support people on low incomes to quit through a variety of measures. We believe it is essential that we make sure that the groups that I have identified as still smoking at levels which are far too high are specifically targeted with marketing campaigns and also with serious funding. That will enable them to quit smoking and will also discourage new smokers, and children and young people, from taking up the habit.

This habit kills people, and that is why we support this tax increase. We all know that when we are dealing with these sorts of issues we need a variety of measures, so the Greens support this legislation. But we strongly encourage the government to make sure that the other measures that we all know are essential in dealing with this issue are properly funded so that we achieve the aim of reducing smoking to nine per cent, because the evidence shows that once you get to that point smoking will rapidly decline. The Greens very strongly encourage the government to ensure that significant investment is made in these measures.