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Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Page: 8751


Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (18:58): It gives me pleasure to rise tonight to speak on the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and a related bill. I put on record and acknowledge the outstanding contribution that the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, has made. We just heard some diatribe from Senator Boyce. I remind her that those opposite were in government for very long time—11½ very long years—and they did nothing.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator POLLEY: I know I have hit the mark because of these interjections. This bill deals with an important issue. There is no doubt that tobacco is still the single biggest preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. The truth is that more than 15,000 Australians die prematurely each year due to the effects of tobacco. The direct cost of this is $31.5 billion. While that figure is enormous, the real cost—the part that is unacceptable—is the unnecessary premature death of so many Australians year after year.

There are still over 3.3 million Australians who smoke. That is more than 16 per cent of people over 14. Men are slightly more likely to smoke than women. While these figures have been slowly declining over past decades, there is no room for complacency. We all know that the tobacco companies have been targeting the young for decades. One classic example that illustrates how unscrupulous these companies are comes from Taiwan. Remember, these are global companies who see all parts of the world's population as targets. This is just one example. Young people could not purchase tickets to a rock concert unless they could produce two empty cigarette packages. This was not uncommon, especially in Taiwan and Hong Kong. It is standard tobacco company behaviour in many developing countries—but more about the tobacco companies later.

Men in their 20s, 30s and 40s and women in their 40s are the heaviest smokers. Unfortunately, the smoking rate amongst Indigenous Australians is twice the rate of the general population—close to 40 per cent of those over 14 smoke. Smoking is responsible for 84 per cent of lung cancers in men and 77 per cent in women. Between 20 and 30 per cent of all cancers are the result of smoking, and we know one in five pregnant women smoke.

We have known about the adverse aspects of tobacco since the 1950s. However, if we had to rely on the ethical and caring attitude of the tobacco companies we would still not know how truly harmful tobacco is. To see their dishonest and deceptive behaviour, we only have to look at the process of the adoption of the master settlement agreement. On 14 April 1994 seven executives of tobacco companies testified that they did not believe that tobacco use was addictive. Remember, this was in 1994. They were: William Campbell, President and CEO of Philip Morris USA; James W Johnston, Chairman and CEO of RJR Tobacco Co.; Joseph Taddeo, President of US Tobacco Co.; Andrew H Tisch, Chairman and CEO of Lorillard Tobacco Co.; Edward A Horrigan, Chairman and CEO of Liggett Group Inc.; Thomas E Sandefur, Chairman and CEO of Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation; and Donald S Johnston, President and CEO of American Tobacco Co.

I will refer to four documents that contributed to the preparation of the master settlement agreement and show that tobacco companies had had sound evidence for nearly three decades that tobacco use was addictive and caused cancer in laboratory animals and human beings. From these and many other documents, lawyers in the Medicaid suits had developed various theories to show the tobacco industry committed a fraud against the American public. This legal process occurred in the USA, but the consequences of the behaviour of tobacco companies were not limited to that country. People around the world died due to this deliberate concealment. These documents contributed to the finding that tobacco industry lawyers controlled scientific research in an attempt to hide data that was damaging to the industry. In other words, they covered up evidence that smoking is addictive and causes death and disease.

The first is a document relating to the Auerbach dog study which showed that as early as 1970 cigarette companies had medical evidence that smoking caused lung cancer in animals. Second is the Addison Yeaman memo. This document, written by Brown and Williamson's general counsel, was critically important because it indicated that tobacco industry executives knew about the dangers of smoking in the early 1960s but continued to deny them for over 30 years. Third is the youth smoking document, a 1981 document from Philip Morris. It clearly shows that Philip Morris knew that teenagers used their product, that the company had studied this rather extensively and that they were worried about the decrease in youth smoking since it would affect their future customers. Lastly, there are the notes from a 1981 meeting of the Committee of Counsel, a group of tobacco industry lawyers who met regularly to discuss legal issues of interest to the tobacco industry. According to a federal prosecutor, the group controlled industry and scientific research. The notes clearly show the group discussed scientific projects—'special projects'—which were designed to promote the idea that smoking did not cause disease.

I will return to the master tobacco settlement. The master settlement agreement is an agreement originally negotiated between the four largest tobacco companies and 46 US states and six US territories, reached in 1998. The negotiations addressed the potential liability of the tobacco industry for an alleged cover-up of tobacco related health problems. Ultimately the state governments exempted the companies from tort liability in exchange for a combination of yearly payments to the states and voluntary restrictions on advertising and marketing of tobacco products. The agreement was meant to provide state governments with compensation for smoking related medical costs and to help reduce smoking in the United States.

The MSA was originally signed in November 1998 by the four largest tobacco companies: Philip Morris USA, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation and Lorillard Tobacco Co. The agreement was later joined by more than 40 other tobacco companies. Every US state and six US territories signed that agreement. Florida, Minnesota, Texas and Mississippi had already reached individual agreements with the tobacco industry. At $368.5 billion, MSA was the largest civil settlement in United States history. In 2010 the Cancer Council of Victoria estimated that excise from tobacco in Australia was $5.92 billion, whereas health costs alone were $31.5 billion.

The latest estimates of donations to the coalition parties are $140,000 from British American Tobacco and $158,000 from Philip Morris—near enough to $300,000. There has been $1.7 million in donations since 2004, when the ALP ceased accepting donations from tobacco companies. It is time all donations from tobacco companies were refused. Cigarettes kill people. Accepting donations from companies who sell products that kill people and who have knowingly lied about this issue is immoral. Besides, who needs this real and perceived conflict of interest? The Gillard government is strongly committed to taking action to reduce smoking.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: What about Minister Roxon?

Senator POLLEY: Those opposite and the senator interjecting now were part of a government that was in power for 11½ years and did nothing. Once again it is the Gillard Labor government that has made this reform. What a great week it has been for the Australian community, this week in the Senate. The government has set a target of reducing smoking rates to 10 per cent of the population by 2018. The $61 million National Tobacco Campaign is the largest in Australia's history and $27.8 million of that is for the National Tobacco Campaign—More Targeted Approach, which will target hard-to-reach, high-risk audiences and pregnant women. From 1 February, 2011 nicotine patches, Nicorette, Nicobate and Nicotinell were included on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule for all eligible Australians as an aid to assist them in quitting smoking. Also, Champix, another drug to assist with quitting smoking by easing cravings and withdrawal symptoms, has been extended to a second 12-week program.

Another component of the suite of changes that Minister Roxon has introduced is the increase in tobacco excise by 25 per cent and legislation to restrict internet advertising of tobacco products within Australia. The government's proposed plain packaging for tobacco products legislation sends a clear message that the harm caused by tobacco must be dealt with. I would have thought that everyone in this chamber would be supporting this important piece of legislation.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: We are! Haven't you been listening?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Marshall ): Order, Senator Fierravanti-Wells.

Senator POLLEY: It was a bit confusing with some of their speeches, particularly Senator Boyce's. She has probably got a vested interest because of all the donations that go to that side of the chamber. There has been a concerted program by the tobacco companies to undermine this legislation. It is why we know that this legislation will help a great deal to reduce people's addiction to tobacco products. If the industry were not so afraid that they were going to miss out on their dollars and on making a financial contribution to the Liberal campaign at the next election, they would not be attacking us in the way that they have been.

Just to get a perspective, let us look back at some of the history of plain packaging. This can only be a very potted history. In June 1986, 25 years ago, a motion put forward by Gerry Kerr at the Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in favour of plain packaging for tobacco products was supported. In May 1989, a similar call for 'generic' packaging came from New Zealand. This was followed by calls for the same in Europe and Australia. In January 1994, British American Tobacco told the Australian government that plain packaging was contrary to 'intellectual properties and rights advocated by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade'.

By May 1994, this claim had been broadened to contravening the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT; the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA; and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. In July 1994, World Intellectual Property Organisations, WIPO, told British American Tobacco that there was no contravention of the Paris convention. Later, WIPO incorrectly reconsidered its position. By 1995, the Australian health minister rejected plain packaging on international trade and legal grounds. This dishonest ploy by the tobacco companies had been successful in Australia and Canada.

So what have we seen this year from the tobacco industry? Not much that is new: claims about trade agreements; intellectual property; the need for the Australian government to pay huge compensation to the tobacco industry; lobbying US congressmen and foreign countries like Malaysia to oppose Australia's plans; claims of an increase in illegal importation of tobacco; an expanded black market; shortages of supplies; and that tobacco prices will drop dramatically.

I will deal with the last point before I respond to the other claims. It is a bizarre statement that the tobacco industry suddenly believes that their products are of minimal value. Give me a break! Adam Smith in his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in which the famous 'invisible hand' appeared also talked about the moral and ethical behaviour necessary for a market to operate satisfactorily and to benefit the community. These obligations seem to have been completely lost on the tobacco companies. But, in fairness, there might be the odd Australian company to whom this could also be applied.

In dealing with the other issues, I will rely heavily on the help of the Victorian Cancer Council. Let us look at some of these issues. It won't work, so why do it? As the number of design elements on cigarette packs decrease, so does the level of positive perceptions people have about smoking. Research concludes plain packaging is likely to reduce the appeal of smoking to teenagers and adults, make health warning messages on packs more prominent and stop smokers incorrectly believing that some brands of cigarettes are less harmful than others.

Plain packaging was rejected in the UK and Canada. Canada and Britain, along with Australia, have signed an international World Health Organisation, WHO, treaty that recommends its members pursue plain packaging. Canada has actually announced its intention to proceed with plain paper packaging. The British government has stated that it will consult on options to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging, including plain packaging, before the end of 2011. So Australia is again leading the way. Plain packaging is also being considered by the European Union and New Zealand. A plain packaging bill has been introduced in the French National Assembly. Every state in Australia has already moved to make it illegal to have cigarettes on display.

So, if you cannot see them, how will plain packaging make any difference? Both display bans and plain packaging are important elements in reducing avenues for tobacco industry promotion and the recruit­ment of new smokers. Once out of the store, cigarette packs act as mobile advertising for the brand. Smokers display the pack approximately 10 to 15 times a day as they light up. They often leave them out in social situations where others will see them. Plain packaging will end this form of promotion.

Plain packaging laws will result in the government paying compensation to tobacco companies for acquisition of their property and breach international trade agreements. The government will not be acquiring trademarks or any other property from tobacco companies. It will only be restricting the tobacco companies' use of their trademarks and packaging. This is not illegal. For this reason, there will be no need to compensate tobacco companies for acquisition of property. Plain packaging will not disadvantage imports or restrict international trade. International trade agreements do not create a right to use trademarks and, in any case, they allow for member countries to implement measures necessary to protect public health.

Plain packaging will make cigarettes easier to counterfeit and increase the trade in illicit tobacco products such as 'chop chop'. There is no evidence that plain packaging will lead to an increase in illicit trade in tobacco products. Tobacco industry claims about the amount of illicit tobacco purchased in Australia have been found to be exaggerated and misleading. The plain packaging legislation will allow tobacco companies to continue to use covert anti-counterfeit markings on their products. This is the tip of the iceberg and pretty soon public health organisations will be calling for the plain packaging of other consumer products.

Tobacco advertising was banned in Australia in 1976. In 35 years, no other product category has been banned from advertising in Australia. The reason tobacco has been targeted in this way is that it is unlike any other product on the market. It kills half of all long-term users and 15,000 people in Australia every year. Restrictions on the packaging of tobacco products are warranted because of the dangerous nature of tobacco. If the government was actually serious about stopping people smoking, it would ban the sale of tobacco. It will not though because of the tax it brings in. If tobacco was introduced to the retail market today, there is no question it would be banned. Unfortunately, though, the dangers of smoking only became apparent in the fifties, a time when half of all Australians smoked. Although we have made significant inroads into smoking rates since then, more than three million Australians still regularly smoke, many because they are addicted to nicotine.

Once again, I want to put on the public record congratulations to the minister, along with this government, for taking the initiative of undertaking the reform that was necessary because those opposite failed to take the appropriate action in the 11½ years that they were in government. I commend the bills to the Senate.