Minister for Health and Aged Care – Interview on Sunrise – 13 September 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Matt Shirvington and Natalie Barr about tobacco control legislation being introduced into Parliament.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MATT SHIRVINGTON, HOST: Joining us now is Health Minister Mark Butler. Good morning to you. I know it's a very busy time at the moment. Will these changes be enough to reduce smoking and vaping? Do you think it'll work? 

MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: We're confident this will work. We've taken a very evidence-based approach to this, looked at what the leading countries around the world are doing, consulted very widely, and I'm confident that the reforms I'm introducing today will have a real impact. And we need to, Matt, because today more than 50 families will lose a loved one to tobacco, the same number tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that. The truth is: the fight against Big Tobacco is not over. And we've really flatlined in that fight after a decade of essentially inaction. 

Twelve years ago, we led the world with plain packaging reforms which were fought very hard by the tobacco industry. But frankly, now we're lagging behind best practice around the world, and we're determined to fix that. Because what's happened in that decade is the tobacco industry has adapted. They've innovated. They've found new marketing strategies to make their deadly product seem appealing or even cool to young people, in particular. And we're determined to stamp that out. 

NATALIE BARR, HOST: Yeah. Guess it's not surprising that Big Tobacco is trying to outsmart everybody, and it sounds like they're succeeding. So, are you saying each cigarette will have a warning printed on it? Is that going to stop anyone? 

BUTLER: That's one of a range of different measures. This is something that the Canadians are introducing right now, it has some good evidence behind it. But what we're also doing is dealing with some of the other tactics. For example, the industry has introduced additives and flavours. For example, menthol bombs, which means as you smoke your cigarette, a menthol capsule bursts and gives you a burst of minty freshness. They call this the 'fresh burst' brand of cigarettes.

The size and the look of cigarettes has changed, so, a lot of young people are using the so-called 'Vogues'. They're long, they're slim, they're all white. They're designed particularly to look good on Instagram photos. So, all of these tactics are essentially designed to get around the intent of the plain packaging reforms.

SHIRVINGTON: I mean, staying ahead of Big Tobacco – tough for government. But New Zealand have an initiative which may work here. I don't know. Would it be considered: the fact that sales of tobacco to anyone born from 2009 onwards, so they're trying to stop a generation, essentially, bring massive fines?  

BUTLER: We'll be watching the New Zealand experience very closely. We consulted over a long period of time with all of the public health experts. All of those have essentially been involved in the fight against Big Tobacco in this country, some of them for decades. And that was not put to us as something we needed to do. The package of reforms I'm introducing into the Parliament today, we think are the blend of best practice around the world and will make a real difference. 

SHIRVINGTON: Okay. We'll have to see. Health Minister Mark Butler, thank you. 

BUTLER: Thanks very much. 

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