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Thursday, 10 November 2011
Page: 8868

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (15:44): I am proud to be a member of a government that is taking genuine, world-leading action on preventative health. I have spoken many times in this chamber about the burden that preventable disease is having on our nation's health system and, indeed, on our budget. Smoking, of course, is a big contributor to that burden. This legislation over time will provide an effective deterrent to the uptake and to the continuation of smoking in our society and should therefore reduce the burden of preventable disease on our nation and on our budget.

Every year around 15,000 Australians die of tobacco related causes. It represents one of the world's leading preventable causes of death and disease in Australia. Smoking causes 84 per cent of new lung cancers in men and 77 per cent in women. When tobacco related sickness and disability are taken into account it causes more disease and injury in Australia than any other single risk factor. If that is not enough to convince people, and sadly it is not enough for some, the social and economic costs of tobacco are around $31.5 billion a year.

In the last 10 years Australia has done much to reduce the use of tobacco in our society. We have seen social marketing campaigns, the restriction of tobacco advertising and promotion, mandated health warnings, product information on tobacco packaging and stronger enforcement of legislation prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to children. But there is more to be done. The rates of smoking in our society warrant that. Simply put, this bill will reduce the number of Aussies suffering from tobacco related illnesses.

We have heard some shallow arguments from an industry fighting to maximise its profits and, unfortunately, we have heard some hollow arguments from those opposite particularly in relation to the consequential trademarks amendment bill which is an effective part of this suite of reforms. Labor remains the only major party in our nation to refuse donations from tobacco companies. In the true spirit of the way in which we view tobacco production, this legislation will ensure that we reduce the incidence within our society.

About 15 per cent of Aussies in 2010 over the age of 14 continue to maintain the habit of smoking. Today almost three million Australians smoke including almost half of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population over the age of 15 years. In 2008, as a part of the National Healthcare Agreement, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to a target of reducing the national adult smoking rate to 10 per cent and halving the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking rate by 2018. To achieve those targets, of course, we need to do more for the health of the Australian people.

As a result of a raft of marketing control initiatives introduced in previous years, the packaging of tobacco has become big tobacco's primary marketing tool. As one Philip Morris executive said:

Our final communication vehicle with our smoker is the pack itself. In the absence of any other marketing messages, our packaging ... is the sole communicator of our brand essence. Put another way—when you don't have anything else—our packaging is our marketing.

Colours, images, logos and fonts on cigarette packets are utilised to their full potential by the tobacco industry to entice more adults and more young people to purchase their products. There is also evidence that the tobacco industry uses packaging to influence sensory and health perceptions of tobacco products. For instance, the use of words such as 'light', 'mild' and 'low-tar' give a false impression that the product is less damaging to the smoker's health and less addictive than the full flavour brands. Under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is legally binding in 172 ratifying or accessioned countries, parties are obliged to ensure that:

… tobacco product packaging and labelling do not promote a tobacco product by any means that are false, misleading, deceptive or likely to create an erroneous impression about its characteristics, health effects, hazards or emissions, including any term, descriptor, trademark, figurative or any other sign that directly or indirectly creates the false impression that a particular tobacco product is less harmful than other tobacco products.

Further, parties are required to ban or restrict, as far as their constitutions allow, all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Australia is not alone in our interest in plain-packaging legislation. Several countries, including trading partners such as New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, have also considered or are currently considering the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products. Our leadership on this very important issue has received widespread support including from representatives in the United States, the European Union, India, Norway, Uruguay and, of course, the World Health Organisation. But, despite the compelling case and overwhelming support for plain packaging, the government's efforts have not been completely without opposition. Big tobacco has challenged the plain-packaging legislation, and they have been flexing their muscle through a vast advertising campaign aimed at bullying the government and the public into submission.

I am proud to say that the government's commitment to this important legislation remains firm. Plain packaging, in my view, is an absolute no-brainer. We are talking about 15,000 Australians every year that die through the use of this product. That is 15,000 Australians who do not get to see their son or daughter have their next birthday or do not get to see their next grandchild born. All MPs have received letters from 260 professors of health and medicine urging them to support this legislation. Studies have revealed that plain and generic packaging of cigarettes makes the product less attractive and appealing. The removal of imagery associated with cigarettes is particularly effective on young people, and the plain packaging also serves to highlight health warnings, which become more noticeable and more memorable.

A significant number of public health experts have expressed unequivocal support for the proposal. For example, the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Cancer Council, the National Heart Foundation of Australia and the National Stroke Foundation have each welcomed the measure on the grounds that it will help to reduce smoking in Australia, it will help save lives and it will improve the health of many thousands of Australians.

In its submission to the government's public consultation on plain packaging of tobacco products, the World Health Organisation Secretariat welcomed the proposal, stating:

WHO is of the view that ... implementing the proposed legislation aiming to prevent tobacco advertising and/or promotion on tobacco product packaging will achieve its stated goals of: reducing the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to consumers, particularly young people; increasing the noticeability and effectiveness of mandated health warnings; and reducing the ability of the tobacco product packaging to mislead consumers about the harms of smoking.

WHO strongly supports the Australian Government's proposal on plain packaging and agrees with the conclusion that through the achievement of the aforementioned aims in the long term, as part of a comprehensive suite of tobacco control measures, this legislation will contribute to curbing the initiation of tobacco use, reducing tobacco consumption, and decreasing incidences of relapse in those who cease to consume tobacco ... In view of the scientific and legal bases for the interventions articulated in the exposure draft of Australia's Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011, the WHO Secretariat strongly supports the proposed legislation.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing recently completed an inquiry into the bill. In particular the committee looked at evidence relating to the bill's health implications and served to drive home the point that tobacco packaging plays a large role in marketing the product. The committee concluded:

It is abundantly clear that different packages are designed to appeal to different socioeconomic groups ... it is also clear that packaging has been used to detract from the impact of graphic health warnings, and that plain packaging will increase the impact of these warnings.

The committee also found that existing plain packaging evidence was adequate to support the measure and its likely effectiveness. The committee considered that criticisms of the evidence were insubstantial and, on the whole, superficial. Notably, the fact that plain packaging has not been introduced in other countries should not function as a deterrent to the passage of the legislation in Australia. Rather, the committee found that it demonstrates Australia's willingness to take the lead in tobacco control, a role that Australia has taken in the past in terms of preventative health.

Research has shown that, over time, many of the tobacco control measures introduced in Australia have been effective in reducing the smoking rate, and there is no reason to believe that it will not be the same in this case. The committee was strongly supportive of the proposed tobacco plain-packaging legislation and recommended that the bill be passed.

As I have said, 15,000 Australians die each year from tobacco related illnesses. It represents one of the leading preventable causes of death and disease in Australia. Smoking causes 84 per cent of new lung cancers in men, and 77 per cent in women. The social and economic costs of tobacco use are around $31.5 billion a year. And the experts say plain packaging will make a real difference, particularly to the next generation of Australians who we need to protect from this addictive and damaging product.

We do not support the death of Australians, and we will not waiver in our determination to ensure that our next generation lives in a safer, more healthy environment.    It is as simple as that. This is a wonderful, preventative health initiative. It is a genuine world-leading reform and I am proud to commend this bill to the Senate.