We are here today discussing Senator Leyonhjelm’s matter of public importance regarding tobacco taxes in Australia. Senator Leyonhjelm has publicly said that he is opposed to tobacco taxes and that he would fight for people’s right to smoke. Smoking is an issue of major concern for Australians. Currently, 12.8 per cent of Australians smoke. This is approximately 2.5 million people. Each year in Australia, tobacco still kills more than 15,000 people, and it has more than $31.5 billion in health and economic costs associated with it. Those 15,000 Australians are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunties and uncles. They are people we all know. They are loved by many, and often, too often, many young people die from the results of smoking.
On a personal note, my father, who died nearly 12 months ago, was a very heavy smoker. He smoked very heavily for 60 years from when he was a young boy. I can tell you that there is nothing more distressing, other than possibly being the person who is doing the coughing up, than watching someone coughing up revolting, awful, black mucousy gunk when they are suffering from emphysema. It was quite awful to watch him, but I am sure it was much worse for him, doing the coughing from emphysema, in his final days. I have to say that I will discourage anybody I can from smoking.
In my home state of Tasmania, we have traditionally had a higher rate of tobacco smoking than most other jurisdictions and Australia as a whole, with the exception of the Northern Territory. Between 2008 and 2012, an average of 502 Tasmanians died each year from tobacco use. The Australian Health Survey in 2011-12 reported that 21.7 per cent of Tasmanians over 18 years of age were estimated to be either daily or occasional smokers compared to a then rate of 18 per cent nationally.
Tobacco consumption continues to have very serious health and economic impacts for individuals, families and the rest of society. The $31.5 billion in economic and social costs is more than triple the amount of the revenue raised by the Commonwealth from tobacco excise, which stood at around $8.3 billion last financial year. To put it another way, taxes on tobacco do not even cover a third of the costs caused by smoking. Senator Leyonhjelm talks about the freedom to smoke. But smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and 80 per cent of smokers want to quit. They are sick of the money they waste on cigarettes, they are sick of smelling of tobacco smoke, they are sick of the time they spend away from friends and family to go out for a smoke and unfortunately many are sick from preventable diseases caused by smoking.
Labor understands the importance of acting on this issue and thankfully significant progress has been made. Since 2007-08, the national daily smoking rate has dropped from 19.1 per cent to 12.8 per cent of the Australian adult population. Australia has been a world leader in tobacco control, pioneering measures such as advertising bans and plain packaging that have driven smoking rates to record lows. Our policies are being adopted as best practice internationally. Labor’s world-leading plain-packaging reform has had a significant effect on reducing the rates of smoking amongst Australians. I think most people accept plain packaging now. I remember when we were trying to introduce it that the end of the world was nigh, but most people seem to accept it now. We stared down the ferocious legal attacks from big tobacco and this is now inspiring the rest of the world to follow this major advance in public health—for example, Britain and Ireland are now following Australia’s lead.
Evidence also suggests that increasing the price of a packet of cigarettes is amongst the most effective ways to decrease rates of smoking, especially for younger Australians. That is why, in government, Labor introduced four 12.5 per cent excise increments from 1 December 2013. Combined with plain packaging measures, these increases will save thousands of Australian lives. The excise and taxation contribution to cigarette costs still remain well below other comparable nations. The World Health Organization considers that raising tobacco taxes to more than 75 per cent of the retail price for tobacco products is amongst the most effective and cost-effective tobacco control interventions. The World Health Organization calculates that Australia’s tax contributions were 57 per cent— (Time expired)