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Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Page: 8744

Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (18:25): I am very pleased today to make a contribution to the debate on the bills that are currently before us, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and the Trademarks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011. About three million Australians smoke every day. Unlike other legal products, we know that tobacco is lethal. Tobacco cannot be used safely in moderation. It is also incredibly addictive. The fact that smoking kills over 15,000 people in Australia each and every year is a testament to that.

Looking at the problem internationally, recent data released by the World Health Organisation estimates that around six million people worldwide die from tobacco related illnesses each year. Without action, that figure is expected to increase to more than eight million by 2030. This is an alarming number of smoking related deaths. That figure also represents a tragic loss of life which unfortunately rings home to all of us. Some of us in this place, regrettably, have lost someone we know to tobacco related illness. Some of us may be caring for family members and friends who are suffering from smoking related illnesses or have supported the families of someone who has died due to death or disease caused by smoking.

Yet this tragic loss of life is preventable. We know that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Australia. What is more, smoking costs the economy over $31.5 billion per year. Notwithstanding all that we know about the dangers of smoking, our young children are still taking up the habit at an alarming rate. As I said in the beginning of my speech, three million of us still smoke every day. To ensure the ongoing health and wellbeing of Australians and to prevent a burden on our health system now and into the future, it is imperative that we take action to tackle smoking.

A key component in our strategy involves taking steps to stop tobacco companies aggressively marketing cigarettes and tobacco products. That is exactly why we are debating this legislation today. The bill makes it an offence to sell, supply, purchase, package or manufacture tobacco products for retail sales other than products and packaging that complies with plain packaging requirements. These offences apply to manufacturers, packagers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers of tobacco products in Australia who fail to comply with the plain packaging requirements.

The effect of the proposed requirement will be that tobacco companies' branding, logos, symbols and other images that may currently be used to advertise tobacco products will not be able to appear on a tobacco product or its packaging. The only feature permitted to distinguish one brand from another will be the brand and product name in a standard colour, standard position and standard font size and style. The bill enables the development of regulations to specify the plain packaging requirements and conditions for the appearance of tobacco products.

The Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011 is also being debated here today. This has been introduced so, if necessary, the government can quickly remedy any interaction between the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and the Trade Marks Act 1995 that cannot be dealt with under Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011. This bill amends the Trade Marks Act 1995 to allow regulations to be made in relation to the operation of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011, including a power to deem conditions to be met and to make regulations that are inconsistent with the Trade Marks Act 1995.

Research suggests that the current packaging of tobacco products glamorises smoking. Therefore, the introduction of the requirements for tobacco to be packaged in a standardised colour, typeface and form will work to reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to consumers, particularly young people, increase the visibility and arguably the effectiveness of mandated health warnings, and reduce the ability of tobacco packaging to obscure or mislead consumers about the harms of smoking. This plain packaging strategy and these expected outcomes are underwritten by significant and compelling evidence. The evidence is continuing to grow, refining research that has accumulated over 20 years across five countries and that has been written up in over 24 peer reviewed journal articles.

The National Preventative Health Taskforce, established by the government in 2008, was tasked to consider tobacco control as a priority. The National Preventative Health Taskforce considered the growing body of evidence on plain packaging and, after examination of the evidence, concluded:

... there is no justification for allowing any form of promotion for this uniquely dangerous and addictive product which it is illegal to sell the children.

This includes packaging. The fierce and intense opposition of the tobacco industry to the plain packaging is also evidence that the industry believes that such measures will reduce sales. It follows that our antismoking initiatives and policies must combat the marketing campaigns of tobacco companies if they are in any way to be ineffective.

By adopting this legislation, we will also give effect to our commitment under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2003. That convention came into force in February 2005 and is heralded as one of the most rapidly and widely embraced treaties in the history of the United Nations. In 2009, the conference of the parties to the framework convention mooted plain packaging as a part of comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising. I am now proud that out of the 170 countries that have already ratified the convention, Australia will be the first signatory and the first country in the world to commit to implementing the 2009 recommendations on plain packaging.

This bill is our opportunity to lead the way forward in reducing the harm caused by smoking and to bolster Australia's reputation for delivering key preventative health initiatives. The introduction of plain packaging of tobacco products complements a raft of legislative reforms that will help this government alleviate the burden on our health system and prevent tens of thousands of Australians dying each year. We are introducing measures to increase the tobacco excise by 25 per cent above normal CPI adjustments. Additional support has been provided to assist smokers attempting to kick the habit. The government have also provided additional funding for Quitline and in February this year also provided subsidies for nicotine replacement therapies on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The latest figures show that almost 100,000 scripts have been issued to people trying to quit, which is an encouraging figure.

The government have also invested a record $87 million in a targeted social marketing campaign to curb smoking among our high-risk and disadvantaged groups. We have also introduced legislation to bring the restrictions on Australian internet advertising of tobacco products into line with those for other retail points of sale. Once the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 comes into effect, the marketing of tobacco products will be not only limited in the physical shopfronts or points of sale but also controlled in the online and electronic media.

What we have before us is a multifaceted and comprehensive plan to tackle smoking, one with support from over 260 health professionals and groups, including the Cancer Council of Australia, the Heart Foundation and the Public Health Associa­tion of Australia. This reform package is a crucial step towards reaching the COAG National Healthcare Agreement of reducing our national smoking rate to 10 per cent of the population by 2018. The plain-packaging reforms will help the government work to halve the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking rate as a fundamental part of the plan to close the gap in life expectancy.

These bills before us today also build on a history of action the government have taken to regulate tobacco use in Australia and to protect the health and wellbeing of our community. In Australia, we have realised early on the dangers associated with cigarettes and tobacco products. We have subsequently taken action to reduce the smoking rate over the past few decades.

The national ban on tobacco advertising in Australia first came into effect in 1973. At that same time, Australia also introduced mandatory health warnings on cigarette packs. In 1989, the government introduced a national ban on tobacco advertising in newspapers and magazines. In 1992, the Commonwealth tightened its approach with the introduction of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992, which we are amending today as part of our overall strategy to continue to promote the health and wellbeing of Australians.

The Commonwealth, state and territory governments and even local governments have consistently worked together to prohibit tobacco advertising, to remove sponsorship, restrict the point-of-sale displays as well as outlaw smoking in restaurants, outside buildings and in public places. It has been thanks to the existing efforts of all levels of government that we have seen a reduction in the rates of Australians aged 14 years and over who smoke each day. In 1988, that figure was 30.5 per cent. Today it is 15.1 per cent and one of the lowest in the world.

Notwithstanding that progress, smoking rates amongst the unemployed, people with mental illness and pregnant teenagers remain unacceptably high. We still have much more to do to fulfil our preventive health agenda, and tobacco control really is a key part of that strategy. Pursuing this vital piece of reform will improve the health and wellbeing of Australians.

The Minister for Health and Ageing has said a number of times that plain-packaging legislation is the most direct way to get the best health return for our nation. It is simple and it is cost-effective. It does not require a new workforce, or a huge investment of government resources, or any new technology. It is the right way forward. In an environment where there is increasing prohibition of tobacco advertising and sponsorship, the cigarette pack remains the last key marketing tool the tobacco industry can rely on to attract and retain customers. It will be through enacting this legislation to introduce plain packaging that Australia will continue to forge a reputation as a world leader on tackling smoking.

As I have outlined before, these bills complete our package of reforms to the way in which tobacco is marketed in Australia. It will be through these measures that we will continue to see healthier Australians, many being supported to kick the habit and others deterred from starting in the first place. Even one child deterred from taking up smoking is an aim that should be applauded.

We cannot afford to be pushed around by big tobacco any longer. The social and economic costs of inaction are just too high. I congratulate Minister Roxon on her work and her determination to send a clear message: smoking is not glamorous; it is lethal, and tobacco cannot be used safely even in moderation. I urge you all to support these bills and invest in the future wellbeing of Australians. I commend the bills to the Senate.