Interview with Alex Sloan - National Tobacco Campaign, Plain Packaging of Tobacco, Nicotine Replacement Therapy on PBS
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E & OE – PROOF ONLYTopics: National Tobacco Campaign, Plain Packaging of Tobacco, Nicotine Replacement Therapy on PBS
Alex Sloan: Perhaps you were watching the box last night and saw this ad.
[Excerpt of advertisement]
Alex Sloan: That's part of the new national tobacco campaign and writing on The Punch website this morning, saying just quit is the Federal Health Minister, and that's Nicola Roxon.
Nicola Roxon, a very good morning to you.
Nicola Roxon: Good morning.
Alex Sloan: Okay, tell me about this latest attack on the - on cigarettes.
Nicola Roxon: Well, we, as a government, have made a decision that although we have a pretty low smoking rate by world standards, we're still losing 15,000 Australians every year to smoking-related deaths. We know that we can stop that. We know that there's a lot of public awareness.
But this is a different campaign where it's really trying to pick up on a very common thing that almost all smokers experience, which is the cough, and that that cough can turn into a lethal symptom of lung cancer. And that's really a different way for us to try to get the message through.
We're also running the positive campaign, which is the changes that you notice in your body after every day that you've quit smoking and the improvements to your health outcomes. So there's a bit of a fright…
Alex Sloan: A light at the end of the tunnel.
Nicola Roxon: …but there's also a light at the end of the tunnel, that's right.
Alex Sloan: Because, up until now, you've gone down the price signal path.
Nicola Roxon: Well, we've always been clear that the price signalling, and this advertising campaign and our support that commences tomorrow for nicotine patches being made more available at a lower price, it's all part of a comprehensive strategy.
We want to stop as many people from starting smoking as possible, and we want to help as many people as possible to quit, because we know that we can save lives and, ultimately, we save money, not just for the individual smoker who doesn't cough out as much money any - in the future, but also to our health system.
Alex Sloan: So, people will be able to get nicotine patches on the PBS from tomorrow?
Nicola Roxon: Yes, from tomorrow, 1 February, nicotine patches are available on the PBS. A lot of people will still try to quit unassisted and many are successful at that. Others need some more assistance and might try nicotine patches. Others want to be part of a supported program with a GP and others, and using your GP to be able to prescribe the nicotine patches means you can get them at a cheaper rate. But it will be different for different…
Alex Sloan: Was that one of the complaints was that it was too expensive?
Nicola Roxon: Yes, and although smoking is very expensive, people still find it difficult to quit - and those who are on the lowest incomes find it difficult to fund for nicotine patches. This is a way of us being able to help people. It is a drug of addiction, and we know that some people need more help than just trying to go cold turkey, and this is a way for us to make that more available [indistinct]…
Alex Sloan: How much is that going to cost having nicotine patches on the PBS?
Nicola Roxon: Well, if you're a concession card holder, you'll pay less than $20 for a 12-week course, saving nearly $500. And for general patients, it's about $100, saving, $380. So it's quite a dramatic change.
Alex Sloan: This campaign, you describe it as Australia's largest ever, $61 million national tobacco campaign.
Nicola Roxon: That's right. But this $61 million is spending money to save money. The cost to our economy, when you look at the cost of health care and lost time from illness and everything else is $30 billion a year from smoking.
So, a $61 million investment not only saves lives, it actually saves us money down the track.
Alex Sloan: Mmm. Nicola Roxon, Federal Health Minister is with me.
And I notice references there to Madison Avenue and I just wondered if you'd spent part of the summer watching Mad Men, Minister?
Nicola Roxon: No, no, I didn't. But I did have to have a bit of a wry smile yesterday. One of the cancer sufferers who came to the launch of this campaign yesterday, a smoker for 30 years who now has emphysema, he says, you know, look, when he was growing up and those - anyhow, have a Winfield and tough Marlboro man, and all these images that were meant to make smoking sexy, you know, that is just not acceptable any more.
And we've really come full circle where we know it's actually deadly. And that's the message we're trying to get through to new smokers who might not yet be too addicted and can quit, and to others who've been smoking for a long time, this is the year to try to kick the habit.
Alex Sloan: Now, you've got legislation before the parliament to restrict internet advertising and promotion of tobacco products. Who takes up smoking these days? Which group, which demographic?
Nicola Roxon: Well, we still see new people smoking across all of the demographics, but you do see young people trying these products. You have many, many young people, a lot of them writing to me saying, why can't you … ban - you know, make tobacco illegal altogether. So you have a lot of awareness amongst some young people that it's a dangerous killer of a product. But others try it, think it's something interesting, think it's sexy and then get addicted.
We've had about 16 per cent of the population that's smoking, and they're pretty high numbers for people still in their thirties and forties, and that's really who we're trying to target.
Alex Sloan: It's - just on this, Minister, we just had our sports reporter in and we were talking about the tennis, and he was talking about the incredible advertising with the coverage of the tennis on TV of both gambling and junk food. He's saying, isn't this sending a mixed message. Does he have a point?
Nicola Roxon: I think we always worry about what products are being advertised and the risks there are. And, you know, many decades ago a decision was made that tobacco advertising couldn't be used in that way.
We know that there is no safe amount of tobacco that you can consume, that any cigarette can take you closer to cancer. It's more difficult with some of the other products.
With the problem of obesity that we face, it is okay to have occasional treats, but we have a really serious problem about those treats turning into…
Alex Sloan: But these fast-food companies…
Nicola Roxon: … regular foods.
Alex Sloan: … are now targeting the cricket and the tennis. They're - you know, they're using sport there. Do you think there should be some kind of review of that?
Nicola Roxon: Well, we have commissioned and had provided to us recommendations from the Preventative Health Taskforce because we take these healthy living messages very seriously. They didn't recommend that there should be a ban. They recommended that there should be more work undertaken with the industry. And then if there is a change or more that needs to be taken, you consider that further down the track.
Really, the point I'm trying to make is not being an apologist for those fast-food companies at all, but to say that there's not a simple message than the same way that there is for tobacco. Because it is safe to occasionally eat foods that it would not be good for you to eat every single day of the year.
So, that's the real challenge we've got. You don't want to regulate too heavy-handedly, but you do want to take people's public health and their needs seriously, and we've got to try to get that balance right.
Alex Sloan: Minister, there's some reporting this morning that Tony Abbott plans to be Prime Minister by the end of the year without facing an election. And he said that if Julia Gillard failed to achieve by the end of the year all the policy goals she's said about, then the integrity - the independents will be equally damaged.
In terms of health policy goals, will you be able to meet those this year and will Tony Abbott, a former Health Minister, be very much on your tail?
Nicola Roxon: Well, we've already been delivering in health from the ambitious goals that we set ourselves. And the reason Mr Abbott doesn't talk about it very often is because we are fixing a lot of the problems he left us as his legacy. And the best example of that is the shortage of GPs that he left us across the country, where we've already got hundreds more now in training and we'll soon have double the number of training places for GPs compared to when he was the Health Minister.
There's any list of examples of those, and you don't find him talking about them very often…
Alex Sloan: Well, Joe Hockey says the super clinics should be ditched, the whole…
Nicola Roxon: Well, I think he would be run out of town in a lot of parts of the country where those super clinics are already providing services, and others where they're being built, where there's partnerships with the universities, where, for the first time, we're seeing that you're going to have young physios, and nurses, and dieticians and doctors training in communities that have never had them do that in the past.
So, I mean, by the end of this year, we will have 30 of those clinics providing services across the country.
Some still while they're being constructed. But this is a successful program which is delivering to communities. And I think it would be defying the public if you wanted to…
Alex Sloan: And hospital reform, just finally, Minister. Again, another Labor Government promise.
Nicola Roxon: Oh yes, and it's a very, very hard path to walk. We've got agreement with seven of the states and territories. Some of them had to be dragged kicking and screaming because we want more from them for the extra money that we're putting in. But that is also going to deliver results long term. There's no quick fix for the hospitals. But what we're doing is a long-term way of making sure we get value for money and people can access services more quickly. Again, something that Mr Abbott was not prepared to do.
Alex Sloan: Nicola Roxon, thanks so much for joining me.
Nicola Roxon: It's a pleasure.
Alex Sloan: That's the federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon.
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