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Thursday, 10 November 2011
Page: 8881


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (16:42): I rise to speak, proudly so, in support of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011. Almost everyone either knows someone that has contracted a tobacco related disease or has lost someone from this deadly, addictive product. For me, it was my grandfather, Les Southern. Like many of his generation, he took up smoking during the war not knowing its lethal consequences, simply seeing it as a moment of relief in the hard days as a 17-year-old serviceman. He continued smoking when he returned home, until it became such a reflex and a routine that it was ingrained into his personality. There were no barriers to smoking in those days, neither in his office nor visiting businesses and homes on his beat as a police officer, and it was a time when one would not be bombarded with advertising for tobacco smoking at every turn. I remember many a day visiting Les in his home, sitting in the kitchen under a cloud of smoke, as he told me stories about his times as a young soldier or in the police force. I did not see smoking then as wrong or right. I just saw it as my Poppy who, like many of his time, smoked.

But in the late 1990s he started to become sick: coughing, wheezing and having trouble breathing. As he became more ill, it seemed to become harder for him to give up the habit he had carried with him nearly his whole life. Yet he was an active man who loved to dance, go to social events and have a good long chat. Eventually, he was put on an oxygen machine for severe emphysema that restricted his activities—and, yes, his smoking. Doctors told him he needed to stop. It was the hardest thing to do.

I was 28 when he passed away. I was fortunate to have had 28 fantastic years with Les. But I wish he could have seen me enter parliament, and I know that he would have loved to have been here. After his passing, my mum and I cleaned his house. As we took the pictures and photos down around his house, the outlines of the frames left a distinct colour and shape against the nicotine stained walls. As it had done in life, the smoke had surrounded and crowded out signs of life. Losing my grandfather is just one example of the 15,000 Australian lives that are lost from tobacco related disease each year. According to the 2004 National Drug Strategy, tobacco is also the cause of over 750 hospital bed days, with eight per cent of these occupied by children under the age of 15. An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report shows that a total of 4,715 men and 2,911 women died from lung cancer in 2007, making the disease the leading cause of cancer deaths for both sexes. The burden of this addictive substance is obvious and it is also heartbreaking. Too many people are losing loved ones, and these people are dying from what is too often a preventable disease.

What did big tobacco have to say about this? Big tobacco say plain packaging will not work. But if big tobacco believe it will not work why are they fighting so hard? Not only are they fighting; they are screaming, taking desperate measures and turning to threats of legal action in a desperate attempt to deter the Gillard Labor government from acting.

Research into the effectiveness of plain packaging has found a number of benefits, and I would like to take a moment to share some of those findings. Tobacco brand imagery distracts from the health warnings. Studies have shown participants have a greater ability to recall health warnings on plain packs, as opposed to those displaying brand imagery and flashy logos. Studies have also shown that unregulated package colouring and imagery contribute to a misperception that some brands are safer than others. The colour of the pack has been associated with lower risk. Perhaps surprisingly, cigarettes in red packets are considered less dangerous than those in black packets, for example. Cigarettes described with terms such as 'smooth', 'gold' or 'silver' have also been believed by smokers to have a lower health impact when compared to other tobacco products.

Perhaps most telling is a study of 800 Australian adult smokers, with results showing that the plainest cigarette packs were seen as less attractive and smokers of these packs were seen as significantly less stylish and less sociable. The cigarettes in these packs were also thought to be less satisfying and of a lower quality. Plain packs resulted in these negative perceptions—they were less attractive, less stylish and of a lower quality and smokers of them less sociable. It is exactly these negative perceptions that we want people to associate with smoking, especially our youngest generation, those who may be considering taking up smoking and who I certainly hope never will. Increasing evidence from Australia and right around the world shows that plain packaging reduces the attractiveness of cigarettes among young people, and this will mean that fewer young people take up the habit. This is exactly what we want this legislation to achieve. We must remember that tobacco companies constantly need to recruit new customers because they keep killing their current ones.

The evidence says plain packaging will work, and this is exactly why the Gillard Labor government is acting. It is why organisations such as Cancer Council Australia, the Heart Foundation, Action on Smoking and Health, the Public Health Association of Australia and many others have all worked so hard for so long and are throwing their support behind the Gillard Labor government and the federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, with regard to this legislation. In August this year 260 professors of health and medicine, including four Australians of the Year, banded together to write a letter of support to MPs. I can think of few issues that have commanded such attention and such support.

Big tobacco themselves know it will work. Professor Mike Daube, President of the Public Health Association of Australia, said on the release of the exposure bill earlier this year:

The tobacco industry has responded to this move more ferociously to anything in tobacco control in 20 years and I think that sends out a signal, if the tobacco industry is so worried about it, then we've got to be on the right track.

They are running scared at the thought of losing their astronomical profits. Big tobacco—and by this I mean companies such as British American Tobacco Australia, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco Australia—collaborated to fund a mass media countercampaign. Their sole aim, of course, is to stop this legislation. So underhand were their actions that the major corporations associated with this alliance were not initially aware of the involvement of these tobacco companies. These corporations promptly withdrew their membership of the alliance as soon as they did become aware.

Arguments against plain-packaging legislation are light. They include a simple 'it won't work', but we know that tobacco companies would not be screaming so loudly unless they knew, as we do, that it will. Since the idea of plain packaging was floated as an option by the Labor government, tobacco companies have been turning to desperate measures to stop this legislation. Why? Because they know this legislation will reduce their profits, as fewer people will take up smoking. This legislation will have the biggest impact on those who do not yet smoke. Thanks to these bills, current nonsmokers will not be wooed by fancy logos, by split packs, by retro tins. This product will never say anything other than the reality. And what is that reality? It is that cigarettes kill you.

The world is watching as we take this brave step against big multinationals. We have not been intimidated. We have not been frightened off. Australia's leadership with these bills will undoubtedly result in similar legislation being adopted in other countries. History will show it was the Gillard Labor government that led the way. History will show that Australia was not afraid to take on big tobacco and win.

A cigarette pack is one of the final avenues for advertising that tobacco companies have. It is somewhat of a compact billboard, one would say. We know that cigarette packs are used as 'badge' products. They allow a smoker to promote certain characteristics, just as a certain brand of fashion accessory always does. A cigarette pack becomes a status symbol, as it promotes the characteristics associated with a particular brand.

Tobacco companies know the power of this marketing on their customer base and they have been getting increasingly sneaky when it comes to attracting people to their brand. In February 2006, just a month prior to picture based warnings being introduced on all tobacco products, one company began selling their products in retro style tins. These tins had health warning stickers that were able to be easily peeled off. And, just as the tobacco company knew they would be, they were very popular with young people, with new young smokers. This is both underhand and sneaky. Plain packaging will eliminate this ability and there will no longer be an avenue to implement underhand marketing strategies via packs. All packs, regardless of their brand, will look the same. There will be no trademarks, no logos and no pretty colours. Only prescribed information, such as a brand name, will be allowed, in a set font, style and colour. Most importantly, graphic health warnings will dominate. There will be no ignoring the fact that tobacco is a product that kills.

Unfortunately, while those on the other side of this chamber say they support—or supposedly support or halfway-pregnant support—this legislation, they have continued to employ stalling tactics and block it, and the Labor government has been forced to reconsider implementation time frames for this legislation. This is quite unbelievable when those opposite have full knowledge of the fact that such companies are killing their voters each year with their products. But perhaps they are playing these games because they enjoy the odd political donation from big tobacco companies.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: You obviously weren't listening to Senator Cash.

Senator SINGH: I was listening to Senator Cash very closely. Big tobacco are very desperate to stop plain packaging and are resorting to every trick in the book, and the Liberal Party seem to be on their side—given Senator Cash's nonsensical diatribe just earlier. Unlike the Liberal Party, which continue to receive such donations from cigarette companies, the government will not be influenced by big tobacco. Unlike the coalition, the Gillard Labor government is serious about tobacco reform and about reducing the burden of smoking-related disease in our country. Plain packaging is one of many reforms that will ultimately drive down smoking rates.

While these rates are dropping, they still remain unacceptably high in Australia. The government raised the tax on cigarettes by 25 per cent last year because we know there is a clear correlation between a price increase and the cessation of smoking—particularly among low-socioeconomic groups, which we know carry the highest burden when it comes to smoking-related illness. A price increase not only helps drive people towards a quit attempt but also stops people from taking up the habit in the first place.

The Gillard Labor government has also spent $27.8 million on advertising on antismoking campaigns. Why? Because we know that sustained mass media campaigns, specifically TV advertising, are an effective way to decrease smoking rates. In December last year, the Labor government made the decision to place nicotine replacement therapy on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and it has been available since February this year. Where NRT once cost up to $140, those with a concession card can now access a four-week course for approximately $5.40—and $33 for those without a concession card. This was a move welcomed by many, as it broke down the barrier for those who could not previously afford NRT. For many, it was cheaper to continue smoking when compared to purchasing NRT.

In September this year, federal health minister Nicola Roxon announced that the Australian government would commit an additional $700,000 to the World Health Organisation to increase the global fight against tobacco smoking. More than 170 countries have ratified the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which includes a comprehensive road map for the implementation of effective tobacco control policies—one of which is plain packaging. As Ms Roxon said, tobacco companies are fighting for their profits, but we, the Labor government, are fighting for people's lives.

Unfortunately, in my home state of Tasmania, we continue to buck the national trend with higher than average smoking rates. In 1995, Tasmania's smoking rate was 1.5 per cent higher than the national average and today it is more than four per cent higher. Just last week, Tasmania was named as the state with the worst lung cancer rates for women in the nation and the state with the second-highest rate of mortality in both men and women who develop the disease.

This is unacceptable, and that is why the Tasmanian Labor government was the first state to ban smoking in bars and clubs, in January 2006, and smoking in cars carrying children, in 2008. The Tasmanian Labor government is introducing reforms that will see a dramatic increase in the number of places smoking is banned, including in all outdoor dining areas and pedestrian malls. These laws are planned to commence in March, 2012. These regulations will help reduce the proportion of daily smokers in Tasmania and have done so already—from 22.6 per cent in 2007 to 15.9 per cent in 2010. But, of course, we still have a long way to go, with four in every 25 Tasmanians still choosing to smoke.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge the tireless efforts of some of those who have been involved with this legislation—those who have thrown their support behind the Gillard Labor government. While I cannot name them all—there has been such support and momentum behind this legislation—there are some key players. Cancer Council Australia, the National Heart Foundation of Australia, Action on Smoking and Health Australia, the Public Health Association of Australia and many more have long advocated for plain packaging and have had the courage of their convictions, fronting more than one government inquiry to represent the arguments for plain packaging. All the efforts on this issue are to be applauded.

There is no quick fix when it comes to smoking addiction. There is no overnight solution—just as there is no quick fix for those addicted to the substance. We know that it can take many attempts to successfully quit, but each attempt is a step closer, just like each measure introduced by this government: a 25 per cent increase in tobacco tax, placing nicotine replacement therapy on the PBS, increasing the spend on antismoking marketing and now plain packaging. It is all a step in the right direction and eventually we will win this fight. I commend these bills to the Senate.