How would Australians react—and I specifically ask Senator Williams this question, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—if each year 24 fully occupied Boeing 747s crashed, killing every passenger on board? That is the scale of the tragedy attributed to tobacco smoking in Australia: 15,000 deaths per year. And that description does not account for the months and years of suffering experienced by the many people affected by smoking related diseases.
Let us not forget that the health and social costs to Australian taxpayers have been estimated to be $31.5 billion, which is barely covered by the $5.8 billion raised in revenue from tobacco excise. That is money that we could be putting into our health system to save lives from diseases that are unpreventable, rather than the preventable diseases caused by cigarette smoking.
If we had a problem suddenly arise that started to cost our nation tens of billions of dollars annually and resulted in the death of thousands of Australians, I do not think we would regard it as a mere concern. Just imagine if terrorism or natural disasters were responsible for the same number of deaths. I am not sure even the word ‘tragedy’ would be adequate to describe it. I think we would call it a national emergency. a strong government response would be expected and would occur. But cigarette smoking has become so pervasive and so socially acceptable that many still seem to just regard it as a normal part of life, despite the destruction it causes.
Tobacco reforms over a number of years, coupled with other anti-smoking programs, including advertising and support for quitting, have, thankfully, been effective. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare publishes a survey on a regular basis to gain information about use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. That survey, over a number of years, has shown a steady and consistent decrease in tobacco use from 29.1 per cent of people aged 14 years and older in 1993 to 15.1 per cent in 2010. The 2010 survey shows that, at 15.9 per cent, Tasmania, my home state, still has a higher rate of smoking than any other state except Queensland. However, the positive news for Tasmania is that between 2007 and 2010 there has been a statistically significant decrease in the proportion of daily smokers, down from 22.6 to 15.9 per cent.
This is very positive news and I would like to congratulate the Tasmanian government for its tobacco reforms, including the introduction of smoke-free areas. Smoke-free areas were established in Tasmania under changes to the Public Health Act 1997 and include all indoor areas at public places and workplaces, including offices, shopping centres, factories, hospitals, bars and nightclubs, gaming areas, indoor areas at restaurants, corridors, toilets, function rooms and movie theatres; areas within three metres of a doorway to a public building; areas within 10 metres of air intake for ventilation equipment servicing a public building; work vehicles when another person is present; inside a vehicle if a child is inside the vehicle; any other area not being on private premises designated by the occupier to be smoke free; 50 per cent of outdoor dining areas; and reserved seating areas of outdoor sporting or cultural venues.
I am particularly grateful for the inclusion of vehicles if a child is inside the vehicle. As a former childcare worker, a mother, a politician and co-convenor of Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect, it concerns me greatly that any parent or adult would expose their child to cigarette smoke. While adults can to some degree actively avoid cigarette smoke and the harm caused by it, children have little or no choice. That harm is greatly increased by smoking inside a car, which is an enclosed space, often with no ventilation.
In terms of child protection, there is a statistic in Tasmania that concerns me very greatly, and that is our rates of smoking among pregnant women. In 2009, 23.9 per cent of Tasmanian women smoked tobacco during their pregnancy. Smoking prevalence among young mothers was highest, with 49 per cent of pregnant women under the age of 20 and 43.5 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds continuing to smoke through pregnancy. Tasmania continues to have the highest proportion of women of any state or territory who smoked during their pregnancy. Unfortunately, many expectant mothers honestly believe that smoking during pregnancy will not harm their baby. However, smoking during pregnancy is regarded as one of the key preventable causes of low birth weight babies. Low birth weight babies, of course, are more likely to die in their first year of life and are more susceptible to chronic illnesses later in life, such as heart and kidney diseases, and diabetes. As with children in cars, they have no way to defend themselves against their mothers’ behaviour, and I see this also as an important child protection issue.
Of course, the declining rate of smoking nationally proves that measures to limit the attractiveness of tobacco smoking can be effective. The Council of Australian Governments set a goal under the National Healthcare Agreement of reducing the national smoking rate to 10 per cent of the population by 2018 and halving the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking rate. I am pleased and proud to be part of a government that is working cooperatively with the states and territories to deliver positive outcomes in reducing the rates of tobacco use throughout Australia.
This brings me to the bills currently before the Senate. The Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 will make it an offence to sell, supply, purchase, package or manufacture tobacco products for retail sale unless those products comply with plain-packaging requirements. The bill will enable the development of regulations to specify plain-packaging requirements and conditions for the appearance of tobacco products. Under plain-packaging requirements, brands and products will only be distinguished by the brand and product name, printed in a standard colour, in a standard position on the package and in a standard font, size and style. Individuals can be fined up to $220,000 for a fault based criminal offence or $6,600 for a strict liability criminal offence. A corporation may be fined up to $1.1 million for a fault based criminal offence or $33,000 for a strict liability criminal offence. The maximum civil penalty that may be awarded is the same as for a fault based offence, but no conviction would be recorded for a breach of civil penalty provisions. The bill does not limit the operation of state or territory laws relating to packaging and appearance of tobacco products. However, where there is any conflict of state or territory laws with the plain-packaging requirements, the bill will prevail.
Plain packaging on tobacco products achieves outcomes that we believe will be effective in combating tobacco use. Attractive packaging is one of the devices used by tobacco companies to attract people to smoking, so, primarily, plain packaging reduces the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to consumers, especially young people. The colour of the packaging has been chosen based on research to have the lowest appeal to smokers. Plain packaging also increases the impact of the graphic health warnings now mandated on tobacco products. It is very difficult to ignore a picture such as a graphic health warning if it is the most prominent feature on the package.
Coupled with this bill is the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill, which is being introduced so that the government can, if necessary, quickly remedy any interaction between the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill and the Trade Marks Act 1995 that cannot be dealt with under the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill. It amends the Trade Marks Act to allow regulations to be made in relation to the operation of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill and to make regulations that are inconsistent with the Trade Marks Act.
There is plenty of evidence to support the effectiveness of plain packaging. In 1995, an expert panel provided the Canadian department of health a comprehensive review on the likely effects of plain packaging. At that time, four studies had been conducted into the effectiveness of plain packaging of tobacco products. They were a 1987 study by Trachtenberg published in Forbes magazine, various studies conducted in New Zealand by Beede and Lawson into brand image attraction for tobacco products and the impact of plain packaging on the perception of health warnings, a 1992 Melbourne study by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer Control on the reaction of adolescents to cigarette packs modified to increase the extent and impact of health warnings, and a 1993 University of Toronto study by the Centre for Health Promotion examining the effects of plain packaging on the image of tobacco products among youth.
The expert panel found that all four studies produced evidence to support the hypothesis that plain packaging made cigarettes less attractive and appealing. No study providing contrary evidence is known to exist. The expert panel found that there are three primary benefits of plain packaging, which I will outline. Research shows that brand imagery can create false perceptions that certain brands are less harmful than others. Based on their colour and branding, adult smokers have rated particular brands as less harmful and easier to quit. For example, Marlboro’s packs with a gold logo are regarded by smokers as less harmful than packs with a red logo. Researchers have concluded that removing colours from packs and terms such as ‘gold’, ‘silver’ or ‘smooth’ significantly reduces these false beliefs.
An Australian study published in 2008 involving more than 800 adult smokers found that the appeal of tobacco products was reduced by progressively reducing the amount of pack-branding design information. The plainest packs were not only seen as less attractive but were also considered lower quality, less satisfying and significantly less stylish or sociable. A similarly designed study in Canada reached the same conclusions. Research on plain packaging shows that reduced branding not only undermines the positive images in brands but also increases the negative aspects. This is why plain packaging can help to enhance health warnings. Brand imagery distracts from health warnings and therefore reduces their effectiveness.
People have an enhanced ability to recall health warnings on plain packs. They are seen as more serious than the warnings on branded packs, and smokers exposed to large, picture based warnings are significantly more likely to report thinking about the risks of smoking or to stop having a cigarette or think about quitting. Larger health warnings are more memorable, noticeable and more likely to elicit cessation related attitudes and behaviours.
However, an Australian study funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and presented to the 2011 Society for Research on Tobacco and Nicotine found that plain packaging was actually more effective than increasing the size of health warnings. There is plenty of research evidence to support this measure, but anyone who doubts the effectiveness of plain packaging need only look at the response of the tobacco companies. If big tobacco did not believe that this measure would impact on their bottom line, why are they intent on campaigning so fervently against it? It is obvious that the likes of British American Tobacco and Philip Morris are concerned about their profits when it comes to their response to plain packaging.
The Gillard government’s plain-packaging reforms are not a measure in their own right. Rather, they are part of a package of reforms that this government announced in April 2010 to reduce the rates of tobacco smoking in Australia. We increased the excise on tobacco products by 25 per cent, a measure designed to provide a financial disincentive for smokers to continue smoking. A 2009 submission by Cancer Council Australia to Australia’s Future Tax System Review stated that a 21 per cent increase in excise would prompt 130,000 adults to quit smoking and prevent 35,500 children from taking up smoking. We have also introduced and brought into law legislation to prohibit the advertising of tobacco products on the internet and have made record investments in antismoking social marketing campaigns.
One of the tough questions that often arise in public policy is when to regulate and by what degree. Regulating people’s behaviour is a difficult balancing act between the freedom of the individual to make their own choices and the freedom of others not to be adversely affected by those choices. Some tobacco smokers would argue that their smoking is a personal choice, but I disagree. Smoking affects everyone. It affects the health and environment of nonsmokers, who through no choice of their own are forced to live in an environment polluted with cigarette smoke. It affects friends and family who have to go through the grief of watching a loved one suffer and possibly die because they have contracted a smoking related illness. And it affects every taxpayer in Australia who ends up footing the bill for the billions of dollars in health costs and lost productivity that are caused by smoking. So, the more people we can get to give up smoking, the more every Australian benefits, including nonsmokers.
The Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill and the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill are an important part of the reforms that this government is putting forward to reduce smoking rates in Australia. I welcome the federal opposition’s support for this bill. Although it took them some time to get to it, it is the right decision and it is in the interests of Australia’s public health. I am looking forward to the day when the opposition follow Labor’s lead in other matters regarding public health and refuse to accept political donations from tobacco companies.
While the Liberal and National parties are still accepting donations from tobacco companies, they must be compromised. I accept that any individual or company has a right to participate in the political process. However, the coalition parties should exercise their good judgment and not accept donations from companies that produce a product which causes such harm when used as intended. If they want to take money from an industry which is killing 15,000 Australians a year through its products then I think they need to take a good hard look at themselves. It gives me great pride to be a member of a party that does not accept donations from tobacco companies.
Finally, I will conclude by saying that it gives me great pride to be part of a Gillard Labor government that are serious about tackling this huge public health issue that is being faced both here in Australia and across the world. With our plain-packaging legislation, Australia is leading the world, and I congratulate the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, for the hard work that she has put into making sure that cigarette smoking is moving ever closer to becoming a thing of the past. I commend the bills to the Senate.