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Thursday, 10 November 2011
Page: 8899


Senator EGGLESTON (Western Australia) (17:59): I have to concede from the beginning that I am an ex-smoker. When I was a medical student, all medical students and all nurses smoked. If you went to a hospital dining room, there would be a smell of tobacco there. But I do not think many health professionals smoke these days. The world has changed so much: from a culture where smoking was acceptable to a world where people see smoking as taking an unnecessary risk with your health. In a world where fitness is regarded as such a high value objective, smoking—which reduces people's lung capacity and can cause peripheral vascular disease, meaning that people cannot run as far or as fast as they otherwise could—is no longer acceptable.

The facts and figures on smoking are as indisputable as they are staggering. When the sickness and disability costs caused by tobacco are taken into account, along with the deaths related to usage, it can be said that tobacco causes more disease and injury in Australia than other risk factor. In fact, research suggests that the cost of tobacco usage to our economy and in the health budget in particular amounts to an astounding $31.5 billion a year. That is a lot of money. To put this in perspective, this is more than three times the GDP of Papua New Guinea—an enormous amount of money.

It is interesting and educational to consider what could be done if we saved that $31.5 billion a year that tobacco is costing us. We could build more schools. We could build more hospitals. We could build more roads. We could build a lot more important infrastructure around this country. We have to consider tobacco perhaps not so much in terms of health impact, even though that is important, but in terms of what we could do if the money that tobacco and the tobacco industry is costing our country and budget every year were available to put into other programs and activities.

Because I was a medical practitioner, I am sure that it will not surprise my colleagues to learn that I support the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 as another step in the battle to reduce the level of smoking in this country. But, like other speakers who have spoken this afternoon, I do not support a ban on tobacco. Banning tobacco is not the way to go. Whenever you ban things people then set up a trade in getting around the bans and the prohibitions. We ban drugs and yet there is a great illicit trade in this country in both soft and hard drugs. In the United States in the 1930s, when there was Prohibition and the United States government sought to ban alcohol, bootlegging then occurred. I believe that the Kennedy family in fact became rich by bringing whiskey made in Canada across the border with the United States and selling it around the United States—so the story goes. So banning tobacco is not what we want to do. Banning is the wrong way to go. What we need to do is educate people about the risks of tobacco and the benefits of giving up smoking. That is the pathway that by and large has been taken by various governments around Australia.

As a medical practitioner, like Dr Di Natale—and I am sure that he will make some remarks about this—over the years I have seen firsthand the damage that smoking does not just to an individual's health but in the arbitrary way that it breaks apart families and indiscriminately disables people with diseases like emphysema. It is very hard to forget the sight of an old friend who was once a robust and energetic person and who now has severe emphysema and has to get around dragging an oxygen bottle on a cart behind them and breathing with a mask over their nose just to get enough oxygen to walk a short distance. I once had the experience of catching up with somebody who I had not seen for many years who was in exactly that situation. He invited me to come and have coffee with him at Mindarie Keys in the northern suburbs of Perth. I felt how sad it was to see this once robust person living in that way, pulling his oxygen bottle around with him and able to do very little.

To put it bluntly, smoking kills. It kills in many ways. It kills through heart disease; it kills through the cancers it causes, such as lung cancer and bladder cancer; it kills through peripheral vascular disease; and it kills through respiratory disease, a disease with a very high morbidity rate. I must say that I am very proud to be a citizen of a country that has pioneered anti-smoking health education campaigns and began doing so some three decades ago. Australia, quite rightly in my view, introduced legislation banning tobacco advertising in the media and in the promotion of sport. This meant that people—young people in particular—were not presented with images that encouraged smoking. Instead, they were confronted only by the effects of smoking in the people around them. We strengthened laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco to innocent children. More recently, we imposed tight tobacco controls on smoking in public areas. Once upon a time, whenever you went into a cafe or restaurant you had to peer through the mist of smoke to find whoever it was you were going to have your meal with. People used to smoke in theatres, which is hard to believe now, and even harder to believe is the fact that people used to smoke on aeroplanes, which would be totally unacceptable in this day and age.

Australia in fact has been at the forefront of change when it comes to this toxic drug, and our achievements are truly outstanding when it comes to the curbing of the scourge of tobacco on the community and preventing meaningless incapacity and premature deaths. In my home state of Western Australia, under the leadership of Professor Mike Daube, the Quit campaign, which the Western Australian Department of Health introduced and funded, has produced outstanding results in reducing smoking and is regarded as a world benchmark. I congratulate Mike Daube on his enormous success in reducing the incidence of smoking in Western Australia.

The coalition's record in this area, at the federal level, is also one which we can be proud of. It was Robert Menzies who first introduced a voluntary tobacco advertising code for television, almost half a century ago. It was under the Fraser Liberal government that bans on advertising tobacco products on television and radio came about. More recently, Dr Michael Wooldridge, who was the health minister in the early years of the Howard government, in June 1997 announced what was at the time the biggest ever national advertising campaign against smoking, with a federal government budget of some $7 million over two years. That was a very effective campaign and it began a program of public health activity and action which the federal government has shown considerable leadership in in other areas, such as the HIV campaign, for example. I think our federal government indeed has every reason to be proud of its great record in terms of public health campaigns. The Howard government imposed tougher tobacco taxes and the graphic health warnings on tobacco products, which were introduced under Tony Abbott's leadership as Minister for Health and Ageing in 2006 and which also led to quite significant reductions in the level of consumption of tobacco, particularly, I believe, among younger people. So, not surprisingly, in total the coalition presided over the biggest decline in smoking rates recorded in the history of any Australian government.

The coalition generally supports the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill, but with some reservations, as some of my colleagues have mentioned today. There are issues, of course, about trademarks—and they are quite legitimate issues of a legal nature. These things have to be given due consideration. I have read that the tobacco industry plans to challenge this legislation through the courts in Hong Kong on issues to do with trademarking, and it will be very interesting to see what the decisions of the courts are when this matter is tested.

But, as I said, I do not think banning is the way to go in terms of reduction in tobacco usage. I think the road we have followed, in terms of health education in discouraging people to smoke, has been very successful—and it is a road that does not involve particularly big legal issues. Even if, in fact, the tobacco industry is successful in the Hong Kong courts in objecting to this legislation, I think the health education campaigns which are being followed in Australia, and this legislation to require plain packaging, will do a great deal to continue the reduction in the consumption of tobacco in this country.

The bill, as we all know, seeks to prohibit the use of all tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text on the retail packaging of tobacco products. It allows for the use of a brand and variant name in a standard colour, position, font and style on the tobacco package. The bill does mandate that retail packaging of tobacco products should be in a standard, drab brown colour, with the exception of health warnings, the brand and variant name and any other relevant legislative requirements. Personally, I think that people who are nicotine addicts will find a way of finding the particular brand of cigarette that they want, whatever packaging it is in, but hopefully there will be fewer people who are addicted to nicotine and fewer people going into shops to buy packets of cigarettes. The bill does make it an offence to sell, supply, purchase, package or manufacture tobacco products in retail packaging that does not comply with the requirements of the bill—and that, I am sure, will prevent tobacconists and other stores from in some way indicating on the packs, either through their placement on the shelves or with other signage, the brand of the tobacco that is available.

While tobacco control reforms in Australia undertaken by both government and public health organisations have reduced the prevalence of smoking in our community, it is clear that more needs to be done, if for no other reason than the very important one that tobacco is costing our economy $31.5 billion a year—an enormous amount of money. And, as I said, that money could be used in so many other ways: building community infrastructure and other programs which the government might provide for the benefit of the Australian community.

Something like three million Australians, more than one in eight, still smoke. I am told the prevalence is highest amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with almost 50 per cent of the population over 15 years smoking. That is very sad, because our Indigenous population, especially in some of the more remote areas of Australia, is unfortunately subject to a number of disadvantages, principally alcohol abuse, which leads to breakdown of family values and various other kinds of abuse in these communities. It is very unfortunate that, on top of this, smoking is such a common thing among Aboriginal people.

It is hard to escape the fact that we need to have community health programs and public health nursing services that go out into these Aboriginal communities running, specifically, antismoking campaigns and encouraging Aboriginal people, especially young people, to recognise the detrimental effect tobacco smoking will have on them by reducing their health and life expectancy. Smoking leads to secondary diseases such as chronic bronchitis; emphysema; various kinds of cancer such as lung cancer, cancer of the bladder and cancer of the throat; and vascular disease. So its mortality and morbidity rates are very high.

I believe in health education. I do not believe that banning a product is going to be very helpful, because once you ban it a criminal trade is immediately created to get around the ban. I believe very strongly that the health education campaigns run by governments, both at the Commonwealth and state level, and particularly in Western Australia, have been very successful. We should not only congratulate ourselves on the success of those campaigns but put much more money into reducing the incidence of tobacco usage in this country, bearing in mind that the cost to the community is $31.5 billion a year as a consequence of tobacco usage. That cost is not just in hospitalisation costs; it is in the cost of social services, disability pensions and loss of income for people who are unable to work. I do not think we as a community can ignore a problem that is costing this country $31.5 billion a year. We should all be working and dedicating ourselves to supporting programs that will help to reduce that cost to the community.

I quite sincerely believe that this plain packaging initiative is a step in the right direction, and for that reason I am quite happy to support it.