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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1356

(Question No. 4709)


Mr Tickner asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 7 October 1986:

(1) What has been the cost to the Australian community by way of hospital and medical costs, doctor's fees, prescription payments and productivity losses from diseases and deaths due to tobacco in (a) each year since 1971-72 and (b) in total.

(2) What is the estimated cost of these fees, payments, losses and costs in 1986-87.

(3) Is he able to provide similar details relating to fires caused by cigarettes or matches used to light tobacco products.


Dr Blewett —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) and (2) I am unable to provide the information sought by the honourable member. There is no information available from Medicare benefits expenditure statistics relating to cause of disease or death as there is no requirement for doctors to provide these details for services rendered. Medicare Benefits Schedule items of service relate to the treatment provided rather than the cause of illness.

Similarly, with the exception of a small number of drugs on the list of Pharmaceutical Benefits which may only be prescribed on authority for specified medical conditions, there is no requirement for medical practitioners to indicate on prescription the medical condition being treated. Accordingly, there are no data available which would identify the proportion of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme costs or prescriptions which relate to the treatment of tobacco induced medical conditions.

No data on productivity losses are available to my Department.

However, I am aware of papers prepared by the Centre for Health Promotion and Research, Sydney, and the Health Commission of New South Wales which make estimates of the economic costs of tobacco related disease and death. Copies of these have been placed in the Parliamentary Library. Applying Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases to the estimates made by the centre, the estimated costs to the community for hospital and medical costs, doctors' fees, prescription drugs and productivity losses in 1985-86 would be of the order of $1097 million.

In addition, I am advised by the Department of Veterans' Affairs that during 1985-86, that Department paid out pensions of over one billion dollars to Veterans and war widows. It provided or arranged treatment for its beneficiaries, costing approximately three quarters of a billion dollars.

That Department has advised that it is impossible-without a major exercise-to define the costs therein of smoking related disorders, but there are many war widows whose status is related to the smoking habits of their deceased husbands. It is estimated that 90-95% of Department of Veterans' Affairs expenditure on the four most common lung conditions among Veterans is related to cigarette smoking.

(3) No. Such data are not available to my Department. However, again using the estimates derived by the Centre for Health Promotion and Research, and updating them by applying CPI increases, estimated costs of fire damage in 1985-86 attributable to smoking amounted to $112 million.