Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1105

Senator MASON —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Did the Minister note that two people were killed in house fires in Sydney on Saturday night and that in each case fire authorities were reported to have attributed the fire to smoking. They were only the latest two of hundreds of fatal house fires and serious bush fires attributed to the tobacco industry. Does the Government know that for the past two years there has been strong pressure on the tobacco industry in the United State of America to market a self-extinguishing cigarette which goes out-

Opposition senators-Oh!

Senator MASON —I feel that the sounds coming from my right from Liberal Party Senators indicate that they have no sympathy for those people who indeed die in hundreds every year as a result of such fires. Senator Boswell will recollect that he is a member of the National Party. His constituents would say that bush fires caused in that way are a matter of grave concern.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Mason, will you please put your question to the Minister?

Senator MASON —Thank you, Mr Deputy president, I will return to my question. Does the Government know that for the past two years there has been strong pressure on the tobacco industry in the United States to market a self- extinguishing cigarette which goes out when dropped or discarded, and that such a product is perfectly feasible technologically? Does the Minister recall that 18 months ago I suggested that the tobacco industry develop such a self- extinguishing cigarette by self-regulation? This was a similar call to that being made to the industry in the United States. I ask the Minister: Since the industry has failed to do so, will the Government now institute an inquiry into this matter with the aim of compelling the tobacco industry to make cigarettes which are not a regular, fatal and completely avoidable life and property hazard to the community? If the Government does not wish to do this, will it acknowledge that it regards the tobacco industry as beyond all accountability for the enormous total of damage, death and disease that it causes?

Senator GRIMES —I am afraid that neither I nor the Minister for Health were aware of the two cases mentioned by the honourable senator. However, I am aware that each year there are many fires in this country, resulting in death, which have started from cigarettes, frequently from people smoking cigarettes in bed. We are aware that there has been strong pressure from some groups in the United States of America for the tobacco industry to market a self-extinguishing cigarette. However, I think it is worth pointing out that the United States Government does not support this project at the moment and I do not know whether it will in the future. I am completely unfamiliar with the technology involved in the manufacture of such cigarettes and neither I nor the Minister for Health can comment on the feasibility of such cigarettes. I am sorry that neither I nor the Minister for Health are able to remember Senator Mason's making this suggestion some 18 months ago.

Senator Chaney —Smoking ruins your brain cells and your memory.

Senator GRIMES —Senator Chaney says that smoking ruins your brain cells and your memory. That is why I gave it up, I think, a couple of weeks ago. It is important to realise that this Government-

Senator Walters —Too late.

Senator GRIMES —We wonder what caused Senator Walter's trouble. Given that the Government is in fact committed to inhibiting the promotion of cigarettes with an aim of reducing tobacco consumption generally, one might think it a bit incongruous that we should institute an inquiry as suggested by Senator Mason into producing a fire-safe or any sort of safe cigarette. The simple fact is that there is no such thing as a safe cigarette. Tobacco related disease kills about 16,000 people a year in this country and accordingly the Government and the Department of Health will continue to direct their efforts towards educating the community on the dangers of smoking.

That does not mean that I do not think that, if the tobacco industry could develop a fire-safe cigarette, it would not be a worthwhile thing for those unfortunate people in the community who find that they cannot give up cigarettes . I do not mean to suggest by that that the Government would do anything to inhibit the development of such a cigarette. I do not know that Senator Mason's comments on the tobacco industry are entirely justified but I must say that in my experiences with that industry in the past it has certainly been reluctant to put money into anything which suggests that its products are anything other than safe. That is unfortunate but I suppose it is an understandable part of that industry. I will refer to the Minister for Health the other matters raised by Senator Mason, if I have not answered them, and will get a full answer for him as soon as possible.