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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 30

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (13:53): I rise to speak to the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010. This bill seeks to bring advertising of tobacco prod­ucts on the internet or on hand-held devices such as mobile phones, tablets or any future technologies in line with the restrictions already in place in other advertising forums.

The Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 had a number of objectives, which are as relevant today as they were when they were first introduced. The act's objectives were to limit the exposure of the public to messages or images that may persuade them to start smoking or continue smoking, to use or continue to use tobacco products and to improve public health. The Gillard Labor government is very serious when it comes to tobacco control, and rightly so, as it remains one of the leading causes of preventable death and disease amongst many Australians.

I would like to take a moment to share with senators a few frightening statistics related to tobacco. We know that tobacco is responsible for more than $31 billion a year in costs to the Australian community. Sadly, we also know that tobacco is responsible for around 15,000 deaths every single year. Tobacco accounts for 56 per cent of total drug abuse cost. Perhaps surprisingly, this is more than alcohol and all other drugs combined. Tobacco costs Australia more than $15 billion in workplace costs. This is twice as much as the workplace costs associated with alcohol and other drugs combined. Tobacco is responsible for more than 750,000 hospital bed days, with eight per cent of these beds occupied by children under the age of 15.

How can we as a nation let tobacco affect our youth like this? How can we let it affect anyone, when the dangers associated with this product are so well known and have been known for so long? Simply put, we cannot do so. No longer is it okay to stand back and let big tobacco ruin so many lives in exchange for its big profits. So the Gillard Labor government is taking a comprehensive approach to tobacco control. In April 2010, a 25 per cent tobacco excise was introduced by the Gillard Labor government. There have also been record investments—$27.8 million—in anti-smoking campaigns. The government has also provided an additional $700,000 to the World Health Organisation to help the global fight against tobacco smoking. We also had the opportunity to vote on and successfully pass legislation on plain packaging in this very place just last year. This is legislation that will lead the world, and the world is most definitely watching. It is an honour to be part of a Gillard Labor government that is not afraid of tackling the tough issues and talking to big tobacco companies. These measures, together with this legislation I speak on today, will make a difference when it comes to reducing smoking rates and reducing the burden of tobacco related disease. We cannot stop the fight, and it is a fight that will not be over for many years to come. Big tobacco will fight us all the way, but we cannot and we will not let them win. We have to keep fighting.

While national statistics show a quite dramatic decrease in smoking rates, it is, sadly, still a different story in my home state of Tasmania. In 1995, Tasmanian smoking rates were 1.5 per cent higher than the national average, at 25.5 per cent. In 2007-08 they were 4.8 per cent higher than the national average of 20.1 per cent. But I would like to take a moment to acknowledge some of the work that has been undertaken by the state Labor government in Tasmania, who have been working hard to rectify this scenario. They too understand that we cannot sit back and do nothing and that we must act in concert with one another.

Some of the most innovative non-smoking legislation has been passed in Tasmania over the last decade with more to come regarding smoke-free areas, including banning smoking in sporting venues, playgrounds and all outdoor dining areas. This will not only continue to denormalise smoking but also protect our community from the dangers associated with second-hand smoke. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, and only 100 per cent smoke-free environments provide that effective protection. It may not be a surprise to senators to know that, of more than 400 chemicals present in tobacco smoke, more than 60 are cancer causing. The anti-smoking campaigns are true: every cigarette you smoke is doing you damage.

Tobacco has long been known as a deadly substance, and a national ban on tobacco advertising on radio and television first came into effect in Australia way back in 1973. A decade later, the Smoking and Tobacco Products Advertisements (Prohibition) Act 1989 banned advertising in newspapers and magazines. And it was in 1992 that a more rigid ban was introduced, making it an offence to publicly promote tobacco products.

Scientific evidence tells us that images and mentions of tobacco normalise smoking to our most vulnerable and valuable, our youngest generation. It is vital that we limit such images and conversations and protect this generation from the addiction of tobacco. Given that we have known for decades that tobacco is deadly, there can be no more excuses.

Debate interrupted.