Opening Address to the 2011 Oceania Tobacco Control Conference - ‘Burying the Habit: Moving to a Tobacco-free Future’
View by date:Previous Ministers
18 October 2011
- Prof. Suzanne Chambers, Professor of Preventative Health, Griffith University. Chair of Panel
- Prof. Suzanne Chambers, Professor of Preventative Health, Griffith University
- Dr. Jeannette Young, Chief Health Officer, Queensland Government
- Prof. Ron Borland, Chair 2009 Conference Program Committee
- Prof. Richard Edwards (NZ), Head of the Department of Public Health, University of Otago
- Prof Ian Olver, CEO Cancer Council
I am delighted to be with you in Brisbane this morning, and to deliver the opening address to this enormously important conference.
It’s important because it tackles one of our most pressing health challenges – the threat that tobacco poses to the health of individuals, and the heavy toll it takes on our health systems, our societies and our economies.
The World Health Organization says that the tobacco epidemic is “one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced”.
Tobacco is not like any other legal product. When used as intended, it is lethal.
The facts are stark:
Tobacco kills up to half of its long-term users.
Globally, it kills nearly six million people each year, a tenth of those from exposure to second-hand smoke.
It caused an estimated 100 million deaths last century, and on current trends will cause up to one billion deaths this century.
It’s predicted that, left unchecked, tobacco-related deaths will increase to over eight million a year by 2030 – 80 per cent in low- and middle-income countries.
In Australia, tobacco-related illnesses claim 15,000 lives each year – that’s 15,000 families who suffer the pain and loss of a loved one.
In particular, Indigenous Australians are affected disproportionately.
Smoking is responsible for one fifth of deaths among Indigenous Australians and 12 per cent of the burden of disease.
Smoking tobacco is the direct cause of a third each of the disease burden in cancer and cardiovascular conditions among Indigenous Australians.
So it is heartening to know that this conference is paying particular attention to tobacco control and Indigenous health.
Tobacco control is central to improving health outcomes across a whole range of illnesses.
If we break the tobacco habit, we can help break the impact of chronic disease on our society.
Just a month ago I was fortunate to attend and represent Australia in New York at the UN high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases where tobacco control took centre stage.
The WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, said that “the single biggest blow to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease” would be full implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Countries stood to benefit, because non-communicable diseases deliver “a two-punch blow to development”.
They cause billions of dollars in losses of national income, and they push millions of people below the poverty line, each and every year.
These diseases could break the bank, she said, but they are largely preventable through cost-effective measures.
And she called on heads of state and government to stand firm against “the despicable efforts of the tobacco industry” to subvert the Framework Convention.
Unlike many other diseases we fight, tobacco smoking and tobacco related diseases are man made.
We struggle to find ways to contain diseases that are carried by nature - by mosquitoes, by bats, in our water.
Tobacco is different. It's planted, harvested, manufactured, marketed and sold - every step of the way it's man made. And once an addiction sets in, tobacco companies have a customer for life.
Tobacco has become a modern day pest - causing disease to spread in our community. Unlike malaria - we can't protect ourselves from it with medication. But we can reduce harm through regulation – something that we've done in Australia for decades.
Australia is committed to action that will bring down the use of this deadly product and minimise the harm that tobacco causes.
We are taking vigorous action domestically, and internationally we have made a series of commitments to the cause of opposing Big Tobacco’s drive to retain and expand its market.
We have also concentrated much of our effort in helping our neighbours in the Pacific.
Through AusAID, we have committed $25 million over the next four years to help Pacific nations to tackle non-communicable diseases through healthy lifestyle campaigns, diabetes clinics, and new tobacco and alcohol legislation.
The implementation of the Framework Convention is a priority in the global fight against tobacco and it provides a comprehensive roadmap for effective tobacco control policies, and so far 174 countries have ratified it.
There is already movement – significant movement – across the Pacific region towards a tobacco-free future, which I would like to support and applaud.
I commend the concerted efforts underway to ‘bury the habit’ in the Pacific. Australia is proud to be a member of the only World Health Organization region in which all countries have ratified the Framework Convention.
At the High level Pacific Tobacco Control Workshop in March 2010, Australia announced further funding of $100,000 to assist Pacific Island countries undertake needs assessments under the Convention.
They allow governments to see where they need help to ensure that tobacco control measures are effective and I am pleased to say that work has already begun.
We further underlined our commitment to global action in New York, where I announced an additional $700,000 to the Convention secretariat.
That sum is more than three times Australia’s assessed share in the Convention’s biennial budget, and that is a measure of our commitment to the global fight against Big Tobacco.
That funding will meet some pressing needs.
Of the total, $400,000 will fully fund an intergovernmental working group to develop guidelines which address tax and pricing measures to reduce demand for tobacco.
Increasing tobacco taxes and prices can be the single most powerful measure for reducing tobacco demand.
Another $200,000 will be used to adapt existing graphic health warnings and social marketing materials for use by low-resource countries.
The remainder will be allocated to develop an international database of best practices to support the Convention guidelines.
Of course, Australia’s international engagement is an extension of the priority which the Government is giving to the domestic fight against tobacco products.
So far, Australia is the only country to have moved to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products as part of comprehensive bans on advertising – a non-price measure that the Framework Convention sets down as a “core demand reduction provision”.
Under the plain packaging laws that the Government is introducing, industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional texts will be banned from retail packaging of cigarettes and tobacco products.
The packaging background will be in a standard drab dark brown colour which research has shown to have minimal appeal to smokers.
New and bigger graphic health warnings will confront current and potential users and remind them of the risks of death and disease that using tobacco brings.
Seeing the heartbreaking harm that can be caused to an unborn baby or the horrific effects of cancer is a shocking reminder that quitting smoking is one of the best things that someone can do to improve their health.
I am very disappointed in the shenanigans in the Senate last week where the Opposition stalled a vote on the legislation, thereby playing into the hands of the tobacco companies.
And as you would expect, Big Tobacco is fighting the plain packaging legislation every step of the way, with advertising campaigns and by threatening a legal challenge in the High Court.
It has organized US based high level lobby groups to make submissions to the Australian Senate’s inquiry and has lobbied other countries to express concerns that the measure will impact on our trade obligations.
These bully boy tactics are because Big Tobacco knows that Australia is a test case for plain packaging – if we are the first country others will follow.
I know from personal contact with many colleagues from Governments across the world that they are looking with interest at our work.
But, Dr Chan sounded a warning in New York last month when she said “Watch the behaviour of industry”.
She pointed to the new litigation tactics being used against countries introducing strong tobacco control measures and said: “Even an old dog like Big Tobacco can learn some dirty new tricks.”
Well, in Australia they have a Government that is committed to act in the best interests of its community and will not be deterred by their bully- boy tactics.
Alongside the plain packaging measure, Australia is implementing a range of other tobacco control reforms in our efforts to reach the target to reduce the adult daily smoking rate to 10 per cent by 2018.
If we are to reach this target, we need to take every opportunity to influence people not to take up smoking, to influence and help smokers to quit.
In April 2010 we raised the tobacco excise by 25 per cent, increasing the price of a typical pack of cigarettes by over $2. This saw tobacco clearances fall by 8.8 per cent over the first 11 months. A study of New South Wales smokers published yesterday in the Medical Journal of Australia showed a 70% increase in quit attempts in the month following the excise increase.
We have introduced legislation to restrict internet advertising of tobacco products to bring it into line with advertising bans at other retail points of sale.
We have invested more in Quitlines, and extended public subsidies for nicotine replacement therapies and other smoking cessation supports on our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
We are making record investments in anti-smoking social marketing campaigns.
And we are focusing on reducing smoking rates among high risk and hard to reach groups, including socially disadvantaged groups.
We are particularly concerned about smoking rates and smoking-related illness among Indigenous Australians.
The adult daily smoking rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is about 47 per cent.
We are committed to halving that by 2018 and are making record investments to do so.
I am also pleased to see Dr Tom Calma here this morning.
Tom is the National Coordinator for Tackling Indigenous Smoking, and much of the work that we are doing to decrease the smoking rate among Indigenous Australians falls on his broad shoulders.
In 2008, the Government committed $14.5 million to the Indigenous Tobacco Control Initiative, which is supporting 18 pilot projects to tackle smoking in indigenous communities around Australia.
The lessons learned from those projects are being applied in the $100.6 million Tackling Smoking measure under Council of Australian Governments’ Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes National Partnership Agreement.
The tobacco action workforce is being rolled out nationally in 57 regions over three years, in regional teams with healthy lifestyle workers, who working to promote good nutrition and physical activity.
Working with communities, this new workforce is developing local approaches to reducing smoking rates, including social marketing campaigns and community events and health information sessions to promote quitting among smokers and prevent the uptake of smoking among young people.
Over the past year, 20 teams of Tackling Smoking (and healthy lifestyle workers) have been coming on stream across the nation, from the Kimberley, Pilbara and Kalgoorlie in the west, to Alice in the Centre, Darwin in the north, Adelaide, Mildura and Dandenong in the South to Newcastle, outer, western and inner Sydney on the eastern seaboard.
Here in Queensland there are currently four Tackling Smoking teams, based in Cairns, Gladstone, Bundaberg and here in Brisbane. These teams are engaging with their communities and actively promoting anti-smoking messages, smoke-free homes, workplaces and events and encouraging healthier lifestyles.
These messages and events are being supported by role models and footie greats including Mal Meninga, Steve Renouf, and Sam Thaiday.
A major national initiative under the Tackling Smoking measure is the Break the Chain campaign.
This includes the first ever national television commercial specifically targeted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences to educate about the dangers of smoking.
A good start, but there is much more to be done.
Ladies and gentlemen –
Our efforts to reduce the use of tobacco products, to cut back the damaging effects of tobacco on individual lives and families, on our health care systems and our economies, means that governments must take comprehensive action on many fronts.
But tobacco is an international industry; and tobacco control demands a global response.
This conference exemplifies the kind of international effort that will help to drive that global response forward.
By drawing together Australian and international experts on health, disease control, tobacco control, it provides us with an opportunity to build capacity, learn from others’ experiences, and share ideas that will help our citizens to “bury the habit”.
Tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of preventable death, worldwide. It is our responsibility to change that.
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