I rise in support of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010. The Gillard government is committed to the health of the Australian people. That is why we are investing money in improving health services and we place such a strong emphasis on preventative health. We want to prevent illness and disease because we know that it is cheaper than treating illness and will avoid unnecessary suffering by those with illnesses.
In 2009, the then Minister for Health And Ageing, the Hon. Nicola Roxon, MP launched the National Preventative Health Strategy. This strategy provides a plan for tackling the burden of chronic disease caused by obesity, tobacco and excessive consumption of alcohol. It focuses on primary prevention and uses all relevant arms of policy and points of leverage from both the health and the non-health sectors. The strategy comprises three parts: an overview, a roadmap for action and technical papers focused on the three key areas of obesity, tobacco and alcohol. The Council of Australian Governments has agreed to attempt to reduce the daily smoking rate among adults to 10 per cent by 2018 and to halve the daily smoking rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In order to achieve this target, we still have some work to do, and that is why this bill is before the Senate. Approximately three million Australians smoke every day. We know that smoking is destructive. Cigarette smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. It is responsible for causing up to 90 per cent of lung cancer. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Australia. Across the nation 15,000 people die each year as a result of smoking and it costs the Australian economy over $31 billion per annum. The burden of disease and illness resulting from smoking should be regarded as a national public health crisis. This bill is one of a raft of preventive health measures this government is using to tackle this crisis.
The bill will ensure consistency when it comes to tobacco advertising and will achieve a number of positive changes. It will amend the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 to accommodate the changes in technology that have occurred since that legislation was passed. The bill will make it a specific offence to advertise or promote tobacco products on the internet and all other electronic media, including future technologies. We all know how quickly the rate of technological change is occurring. Unless advertising complies with state and territory legislation or Commonwealth regulations, it will be an offence to advertise. It will also allow for regulations of internet tobacco advertising and online sales to be similar to those placed on over-the-counter sales. The legislation will also make changes to online tobacco sales so they are governed by the same rules as the sales made in shops.
This bill will improve the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992, the TAP Act, which was introduced by the Keating Labor government. The TAP Act was designed to comprehensively ban tobacco advertising in Australia. Now that we are in the 21st century we have new technology and the current legislation does not cover all advertising media. This is a key area we need to rectify. We know that young people love their technology and this, combined with the fact that modern methods are exempt from advertising prohibition, means that they are exposed to tobacco advertising. We need to have a consistent approach to the advertising prohibition on tobacco to protect people from the temptation advertising often presents. The bill will allow regulations to be made which could cover aspects such as size, content, format and location of internet tobacco advertisements. It will also be possible to regulate for the inclusion of health warnings, warnings about age restrictions on the sale of tobacco products as well as information about fees, taxes and other charges that may be incurred when purchasing the product. Age restricted access systems for allowing people to access tobacco advertising may also be regulated. After all, what parent with a young child wants them exposed to tobacco advertising online?
The bill will ensure that penalties for internet advertising will be consistent with those applied to other types of advertising. The penalties for failing to observe tobacco advertising regulations will be set at a maximum of 120 penalty units, and this is equivalent to $13,200 at present. This is a large amount of money to most people and, hopefully, the prospect of a fine will make most people think twice about disregarding the regulations. The bill will complement other measures the government has introduced and the ones we are still working to implement.
The Gillard government values the health of all Australians and we want people to make informed decisions about their health and to do what they can to prevent illness. One thing people can do is choose not to take up smoking. Those people already smoking can choose to cut back or, better still, stop altogether. In 2010 this government increased the excise on tobacco by 25 per cent. On its own, this measure is expected to cut the number of Australians smoking by around 87,000. Last year the government offered smokers support to quit by subsidising nicotine patches and the anti-smoking drug known as Champix through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for the first time. This was just another way to reduce the smoking rate in Australia. We have a history of coordinated plans at federal and state level to reduce smoking. Through historic bans on smoking in workplaces and public areas and through prohibiting advertising, we are making it less likely for people to take up smoking. As has been said, this is particularly important for our young people as we want them to not smoke to begin with. We all know it is better to not start smoking than to become addicted and then have to work hard to give it up. We are also making record investments in anti-smoking social marketing campaigns.
The government also implemented plain-packaging legislation to make tobacco products less attractive to consumers. On 31 May last year I joined the then Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon MP, and my colleague Senator Carol Brown, who is in the chamber at the moment, to sign the plain-packaging pledge in Canberra on World No Tobacco Day. On 21 April I joined with Minister Roxon and, once again, my federal parliamentary colleague Senator Carol Brown and the then Chief Executive of the Cancer Council Tasmania, Mr Darren Carr, at the Royal Hobart Hospital to promote plain packaging. The legislation passed through parliament on 10 November last year. The government’s plain-packaging legislation means that from 1 December consumers will see cigarette packs with no colours or logos. Instead they will see more prominent health warnings and each time they see these warnings they will be forced to think about the damage that their smoking is doing to their health. They will know that each cigarette is doing damage and that, ultimately, their life will be shortened by smoking. It is estimated that the cost to Australia’s economy from the impact of smoking is more than $31 billion per year. The savings we can make by reducing the number of smokers mean that there will be more money available to improve treatment of other illnesses. Our motivation for this legislation, as I said, is a healthier Australia and to avoid costs that a healthier nation will no longer have to meet or that can be redirected to other areas.
Let me recap exactly what this Labor government has done in preventative health since coming to office. We sought to establish a preventative health agency so that we had a national approach to health strategies and research. We have protected people, especially young people, from the dangers of binge drinking by introducing a tax on premixed drinks as well. In our first term in government we invested more money in preventative health than our predecessors, the Howard government, did in their almost 12 years in power. Interestingly enough, the Labor Party no longer accepts political donations from tobacco companies. We decided it was not ethical to accept money from these companies when their products cause such harm to consumers. Because of this, the tobacco companies know that they need to get the support of the opposition if they are to stop the government from passing our legislation. It seems that those opposite do not have the same problem accepting money from tobacco companies, which is a shame. In the last election campaign, $5 million was spent by the tobacco industry to target the Labor Party. There was one reason for this campaign and one reason only: the industry knew that their profits would be negatively impacted if the legislation was passed.
The coalition does not share the Gillard government’s passion for preventative health. It has blocked many health reform bills put before the parliament, including the Australian National Preventative Health Agency Bill 2010. Only recently it tried to block the government’s plain-packaging legislation. Fortunately, it did not succeed on this occasion. My colleague from the other place the Hon. Craig Emerson MP, Minister for Trade, recently said, ‘The Liberal mantra is why put off to till tomorrow what can be put off forever,’ and that does seem to be the approach that those opposite take on a lot of these tough decisions. If we all shared that sentiment, we would not achieve anything in this parliament.
Thankfully, on this side we believe in getting things done. We think this is very important to the future health of Australia, to the health of individuals within our great nation. We do not want to see people unnecessarily ill or, in a worst case scenario, dying. We think it is important that this legislation is passed by the Senate. I commend the bill to the Senate.