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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1588

Mr ZAPPIA (3:25 PM) —When I was speaking on this bill just before question time I made the point that it is through the internet that the advertising of cigarettes is now going to have the most effect. The Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 specifically deals with trying to restrict the advertising of tobacco products through the internet because that is the best way to target the young people who are most likely to be vulnerable to becoming addicted to tobacco smoking. I said also that I wanted to make a few other points that are relevant to this legislation.

One of the matters I want to touch on is that when I was speaking on the excise and customs tariff amendment bills in June last year I raised the importance of ensuring that nicotine patches were placed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It is a matter that I feel strongly about. When the tax on cigarettes increased I spoke to many people who suggested to me that, whilst they would dearly like to give up cigarette smoking, they found it very, very difficult and nicotine patches were very costly and some of them could not afford to buy them. So, whilst they would like to give up smoking, they found it very difficult to do. Given that, as I and other speakers have made clear, cigarette smoking has direct health effects I believe it important that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme does cover nicotine patches. I am pleased to see that the government has adopted and embraced that proposal and nicotine patches are now available under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The anti-smoking drug varenicline, otherwise known as Champix, has also been made available through the PBS for an additional 12 weeks. I commend the Minister for Health and Ageing for supporting that move.

There are a number of other related matters which I will also touch on. One of them is the fact that, each year, millions of cigarette butts are thrown out into the environment generally. In fact, Australians discard some 32 billion cigarette butts each year and, if you put them all together, that equates to something like 40,000 cubic metres of waste. Sadly, much of that waste ends up in our waterways, in our drain systems, in our reserves, in public areas generally and in our seas and oceans. The risks to marine life as a result of both the butts being consumed by fish and the toxins that are in turn slowly discharged into the marine waters are very, very real. It has been suggested that cigarette butts take anywhere from one year to 12 or 13 years to break down and, whilst they are breaking down, they are constantly releasing the toxins and poisons that are in them in the first place. So, when you combine the effects of both the direct risks to the environment—to our oceans and fish in particular but also to other animals on land—and also the poisonous effects that occur due to the breakdown of cigarette butts, you can understand the serious implications and impacts of cigarette butts on our environment generally.

When you look at cigarette smoking rates across the country, smoking amongst Indigenous people is the highest, at around 50 per cent. We know that Indigenous people are generally worse off than other Australians. They have a higher unemployment rate and their life span is generally lower than that of other Australians. I suggest that the level of smoking amongst Indigenous people contributes not only to their shorter life span, because of the direct health impacts of smoking, but also to their lower standard of wellbeing. If they do not have employment in the first place and they are also spending money on cigarettes, that clearly leaves even less money for food and the other necessities of life. So, if we are going to do anything to curb smoking in Australia, we need to ensure that we have measures that specifically target the Indigenous population. I hope that is one of the strategies being adopted in responding to the health needs of Indigenous people through our Close the Gap program.

The last matter I will touch on is the impact of passive smoking. Again, it has been well-documented that passive smoking has a direct impact on other people. I am particularly concerned about the direct impact it has on children—including unborn children, when a mother smokes whilst carrying a child. Children have little say about the environment they live in and the habits of their household. They have little say about the conditions and places they find themselves in. Adults can choose not to frequent a venue where smoking occurs and can choose to distance themselves from smoking areas. Children generally cannot. We know full well that every health impact of smoking also applies to children who are in the company of people who are smoking. The impact is perhaps slightly lesser because they are not smoking themselves, but ultimately it is the same. Particularly when it comes to respiratory illnesses—children’s immune systems are not as strong as adults’—the evidence is very clear. In fact, sudden infant death syndrome has been linked to smoking. We as a society have an obligation to do whatever we can to protect those children.

For the reasons outlined by other speakers and by me in this debate, I support this bill and commend it to the House.