World Health Organisation - Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyle and Non-Communicable Diseases
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As you all know, reducing smoking rates can radically reduce the burden of cancer and chronic disease.
Australia has had considerable success in this area over the years. We recognised the malign influence of cigarettes early and have made significant progress in reducing the smoking rate. The Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments together have prohibited advertising, removed sponsorships, restricted point of sale displays, and outlawed smoking in restaurants and bars and many public places.
Thanks to increasing efforts by governments, the proportion of Australians aged 14 years and over who smoke each day has fallen from 30.5 per cent in 1988 to 16.6 per cent today – one of the lowest in the world.
However about 3 million Australians continue to smoke every day, costing Australia about $31.5 billion each year – so there is more that can and must be done.
Smoking is more concentrated among people in disadvantaged groups, and entrenches disadvantage by entrenching ill health. For example, the adult daily smoking rate among Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – at 47 per cent – is more than double the whole of population smoking rate and is estimated to contribute 17 per cent of the large life expectancy gap between Indigenous and other Australians.
The daily smoking rate among other disadvantaged groups also remains unacceptably high. It is around 32 per cent among unemployed people and a similar rate for people with mental illness. Around 50 per cent of men in some culturally and linguistically diverse communities smoke. And tragically, over 40 per cent of pregnant teenagers.
The Australian Government believes that we have a responsibility to do all that we can to reduce smoking and reduce the pain and suffering it causes. That is why we have taken the lead, at home and internationally, on this important issue.
We have set targets to reduce the national daily smoking rate to 10 per cent or less of the population by 2018 and halve the smoking rate for Indigenous Australians.
We are approaching these targets by moving simultaneously on a comprehensive range of fronts through the National Tobacco Strategy, in accordance with our commitments under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control:
- Because higher cigarette prices are one of the most effective ways to cut smoking, in April last year we increased the excise on tobacco products by 25 per cent, effectively increasing the price of a packet of 30 cigarettes by over $2. This increase is expected to lead to $5 billion in extra revenue over four years and 87,000 fewer smokers. All of the extra revenue, together with existing revenue collected from tobacco, will be invested in better health and hospital services.
- We have legislation in the Parliament to restrict internet tobacco advertising in Australia, bringing it in line with restrictions on advertising in other media.
- We are making record investments in anti-smoking social marketing campaigns, including tough new advertisements linking smokers’ cough with lung cancer and the first ever national Indigenous anti-smoking advertisement. These campaigns are being extended to specifically target high risk and hard to reach groups including pregnant women, people with mental illness, prisoners and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
- In February we provided heavy subsidies for nicotine replacement therapies, as an aid to quitting smoking, on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
The Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011, the world’s toughest legislation on tobacco promotion, will be introduced during the winter sitting of the Australian Parliament, after a public consultation process which is underway now and ends in early June.
Plain packaging will remove one of the last remaining forms of tobacco advertising. It will restrict tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text.
The packaging will be mandated to appear in a standard dark olive brown colour which has been chosen based on research for the lowest appeal to smokers.
The only thing to distinguish one brand from another will be the brand and product name in a standard colour, standard position and standard font size and style.
All vestiges of marketing messages will disappear, making the pack a stark reminder of the health effects of smoking.
Most of the front of the package – 75 per cent, up from the current 30 per cent – will be covered with updated graphic health warnings, adding to the current 90 per cent coverage on the back of the pack.
Manufacturers will be permitted to include certain anti-counterfeiting design features that do not run counter to public health objectives.
There is strong evidence to support this tough approach.
Australia’s National Preventative Health Taskforce, commissioned by the Australian Government in 2008 as a key part of our reform plans, examined the growing body of evidence on plain packaging and concluded – “there can be no justification for allowing any form of promotion for this uniquely dangerous and addictive product which it is illegal to sell to children” – including on the packaging.
The taskforce said plain packaging would:
- increase the impact of health warning messages;
- reduce the ability of tobacco companies to mislead consumers into believing that some cigarettes are less harmful than others;
- make cigarettes look less attractive – for adults and children; and
- reduce the appeal and desirability of smoking generally.
The Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) agreed in 2009 that plain packaging should be considered as part of comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising and promotion and as a way of ensuring that consumers are not misled about the dangers of smoking.
Australia is the first FCTC Party and the first country in the world to commit to implementing plain packaging.
We intend the legislation to commence on 1 January next year, with the requirement that all products on sale comply with the new laws within six months.
We expect Big Tobacco to do everything in their power to fight the Government’s efforts.
They have already established a group to front their activities – The Alliance of Australian Retailer’s – which ran a multi-million dollar advertising campaign in the last Federal election against the Government.
Philip Morris recently launched a website encouraging smokers to campaign against plain packaging, excise increases and other important tobacco control measures.
A number of big tobacco companies are flooding the Government with Freedom of Information requests.
The industry claims plain packaging “won’t work” – but if it won’t work, why would they pour millions of dollars into opposing it?
It’s simple – a reduction in smoking rates is a reduction in profits, a reduction in bonuses.
Money is no object to them because they are fighting to keep a very profitable global front – hawking their killer products across the developing world.
They know that if Australia is the first, we will not be the last.
We might be breaking ground, but we are on firm ground. Others will follow.
A global business, causing global harm, deserves a global response. That is why we are committed to working together with our partners around the world to take further steps to fully implement the WHO Framework Convention.
We are actively engaged in all aspects of the work of the Conference of the Parties, and will continue to share our extensive tobacco control experience – both successes and challenges – with other countries at different stages of the fight against tobacco.
Australia was the first country to make an extrabudgetary contribution to finance the work of the Conference of the Parties, back in 2007.
In 2011, we are making a contribution targeted towards facilitating implementation in Pacific Island countries.
It’s true that our nation, our region and the world have other important health issues, all of which require attention.
But reducing smoking – compared to most of those problems – is relatively simple and incredibly cost effective.
It doesn’t require a new workforce, huge investment of dollars or new health technology.
It does require a great deal of political will and determination to withstand the tobacco lobby.
I consider myself very fortunate to be part of a government that has that determination.
I hope that when you return home you will press for further efforts to implement the WHO Framework Convention in your own countries.
It is Australia’s hope that plain packaging will soon become commonplace around the world.
Because tobacco smoking is one health disaster that we can stub out, if we have the will.
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