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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1552

Dr STONE (12:38 PM) —The Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 is very important. As you have heard from our shadow spokesman, we certainly agree with the government that we need to do all that we can to reduce the number of Australians starting to smoke and to help those who are already addicted to drop this very unhealthy habit. We need to ensure that the intentions of all governments to continue restrictions on tobacco product advertising extend to the internet and other electronic media. As the member for Dobell has just said, so many interactions now take place in the electronic media. It is not simply enough to ban billboard, paper, television and radio advertising. We need to understand that a lot of modern communication takes place via the internet, on Facebook and other social networks, via electronic media and, therefore, tobacco advertising must also be banned from those mediums.

Tobacco advertising restrictions have been in place since 1973 in Australia. The health hazards associated with smoking have been known for a very long time. Since 1973, Australian governments, one after another, have tried to make sure that Australians were aware of the health hazards and have curtailed advertising. We have come a very long way since the First World War and Second World War, when cigarettes were given as part of a serving man’s rations and tobacco smoking was seen as a harmless relaxation and in fact was thought to do some therapeutic good in helping to calm the nerves and helping people through difficult and stressful situations.

We now understand that tobacco has an enormous human toll, not just for those who smoke but for people who are in the way and inhale cigarette smoke second-hand. We have been very successful in reducing smoking rates in Australia. We have seen a drop in the number of Australians smoking from 30.5 per cent in 1988 to 16.6 per cent in recent times. That is a very substantial drop in the numbers. This means that many more Australians are having a chance to lead a healthy life. However, 15,000 Australians still die from smoking related diseases every year and that costs the economy some $31.5 billion, not to mention the sadness and distress associated with losing a loved one who has died as a consequence of their smoking habit.

In 2007, some 16.6 per cent of Australians aged 14 and over were smoking daily. That is a very sad statistic because it is the young, particularly young females, who are now taking up smoking, even though the cost of a packet of cigarettes is very substantial.

This bill is part of a package which included the 25 per cent tobacco excise increase introduced in April 2010, record investment in antismoking social marketing campaigns, and legislation to mandate plain packaging of tobacco products by 2012. This is a very important part of that package. In 1992 a very rigid ban on tobacco advertising was passed—the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992. This act is the primary vehicle governing advertising of tobacco products in Australia. It makes it an offence to give publicity to or to promote tobacco products. Giving away samples also needs to be banned, given the vulnerability of the very young. The act applies to all tobacco products, including pipes, cigars, pipe tobacco, loose tobacco and cigarette papers. It is very important to remember that tobacco does not just come in ready-made cigarettes.

Since the passage of the act in 1992 the use of the internet as an advertising medium has become increasingly widespread. That is why this 2010 bill, which we are debating in 2011, is so important. The internet is clearly a major vehicle by which young people in particular can be exposed to tobacco advertising. Clearly, Australia has always been concerned about the effects of tobacco advertising since the health impacts became well known. We are now, today, seeking to strengthen the arm of the government in ensuring we do not have tobacco advertising continuing in the electronic media.

While we are strong on trying to help people give up tobacco smoking and strong on trying to stop people taking up smoking, which is so addictive, as we know, on the other hand we ignore the harmful effects of alcohol and the advertising of alcoholic products. For example, we still do not have labelling on alcohol which warns that it is a significant health risk particularly for women who are pregnant, that alcohol abuse is harmful to your health and that alcohol is harmful for minors in particular. Other countries that have health warning labels on alcohol include the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, India, Sweden, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

So we have to wonder: why is Australia dragging the chain when it comes to advertising the harms of alcohol on products such as beer and other alcoholic beverages? A lot of our wineries and beer producers export their products to the countries that require label warnings. Those bottles or containers of alcohol must be labelled according to the other country’s laws before the product can enter into those countries. It seems extraordinary that we stick a label on Australian products so that they can go into the United States—a government warning that says ‘According the to Surgeon General women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects’, and if we send wine into France it must say, ‘Alcohol abuse is dangerous to health’, but we do not make it absolutely clear in Australia to those who pick up a bottle or a container of alcohol that alcohol is damaging to the health in the same way that smoking of cigarettes is dangerous to health.

A review of food labelling law and policy, called Labelling Logic 2011, has just been delivered to the Australian government. It is in remembrance of Dr Trevor Beard OBE, whose passionate contribution to this review and food reform more generally is acknowledged and appreciated. The panel members included Neal Blewett, Nick Goddard, Simone Pettigrew, Chris Reynolds and Heather Yeatman. They have put a number of recommendations to this government and one of them, recommendation 24, is:

That generic alcohol warning messages be placed on alcohol labels but only as an element of a comprehensive multifaceted national campaign targeting the public health problems of alcohol in society.

I could not agree with that recommendation any more strongly. I think it is an important recommendation. I repeat, it is extraordinary that in a country like Australia—where we have comprehensively understood the dangers of cigarette smoking, have sought to prevent people taking up cigarette smoking in the first instance and have tried to help people give up smoking—we ignore another product, which causes serious health effects. Alcohol causes serious problems for family members in terms of alcohol fuelled violence. It causes serious problems with accidents, lack of productivity and non-genetic birth defects in children. In fact, foetal alcohol syndrome is a serious problem amongst Australian children, particularly in some Indigenous communities. That condition is a consequence of the mother consuming alcohol during the early stages of her pregnancy. The sad thing about the permanent intellectual and physical disabilities that are manifest in foetal alcohol syndrome in the newborn is that this condition is totally preventable. If the mother had not consumed alcohol during her pregnancy the baby would not have been born with permanent, irreversible intellectual and physical handicap.

Surely a country like ours must bite the bullet. We must now pick up the task of trying to make sure that Australians—despite a great drinking culture that is well entrenched in our society—tackle alcohol abuse. We must do this, in particular, through labelling, in the way that we sought to reduce the harm from tobacco smoking with a very effective ban on advertising and through quit smoking campaigns.

I commend this bill to the House. This bill makes sure that tobacco advertising will also be banned if it occurs in the electronic media. I strongly urge this government to consider also the need to ban alcohol advertising and to ensure—in line with other countries, both developed and developing, who want to protect their citizens from the harms of alcohol abuse—that labelling on alcohol products reflects that it is a health hazard.