Tuesday 21 August 2012

Hansard of the Legislative Council


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - I would like to make a couple of contributions and echo the sentiments of the member for Pembroke in thanking the member for Windermere for heading down this track, consistently, to make sure we keep the public discussion about smoking and its bad effects at the front of people's minds.

I have been reflecting on this over the last few days because I had a friend pass away last Thursday morning. In preparation for the funeral, which I was organising, I was going over a lot of his old photos. He was a child of the Depression, born in 1930, so he lived a pretty good life - 81 years of age. He was a very heavy smoker until a few years ago and a very heavy drinker as well. Fluffy duck was his drink of choice.

In going over his photos, it was really interesting to go back to the time when he was a young man in Victoria, in the rag trade, and to see him as a judge at the Victorian Wool Awards. He was seated at the table with a row of judges - there were four women sitting with him and there were five ashtrays on the table. The women had cigarettes in their hands. That was really the lifestyle, even in my childhood - ashtrays everywhere. I do not know if we were able to smoke in the chamber here, but certainly in our radio studios, we had cigarette ashtrays everywhere. It was just part of the existence. When I was a young fellow, my dad helped a friend out part-time at the bowling alley in Moonah, as a cleaner. When the chap needed a holiday, dad would do the cleaning for him.

He took me along a couple of times to help him clean. Most of the cleaning about the place was cleaning the ashtrays, because everybody at the bowling alley smoked all the time. They just smoked, smoked, smoked. The job of cleaning the ashtrays was a shocker.

I do not know if you have ever had to empty an ashtray out and then dip it into a bucket of water and then wipe it. The water got blacker and blacker, and smellier and smellier and that smell - it is like chooks in boiling water - it stays with you. It was a shocker. It did not turn me off smoking though.

I want to talk a bit about addiction and I want to make sure that people have an understanding. It is easy, as a non-smoker, to say, 'Well give up, do not smoke', but that shows a lack of understanding about the power of the cigarette addiction.

When I was a young bloke, I had quite an association with cigarettes. I grew up at Fern Tree, and in small communities like Fern Tree young people associate with kids of all ages. You do not just stick with your peer group - you do not knock around with just five-year olds, or 10-year olds or 14-year olds. At Fern Tree, as a four or five-year old, I spent time with kids of all ages, up until 18 or 19 years of age. We were like all the kids who kicked the footy together or played cricket in the quarry. All of those older kids smoked, and we were all smokers.

When I was a young kid of four and five years of age, the challenge for me in life was to be able to do the drawback. That was a sign of maturity - that you could do the drawback - so after much coughing and spluttering the challenge was overcome. You were able to do the drawback, so you grew about a foot in height, just because you could do that. Then, of course, you are into smoking. Everybody smokes.

I remember that mum made me eat a cigarette once because she was trying so desperately to stop us from being so secretive - hiding cigarettes and smoking on the school buses and all that sort of thing. She made me eat a cigarette, but it did not help. Mum and dad had to let my brother Phil and me smoke at home - I was 13 and Phil was 15 - because they had just given up.

Mum and dad were both smokers. They were trying to tell us the antismoking message, yet they were smokers themselves. So here I am, at 13 years of age, watching TV at night, and smoking cigarettes. We would smoke at school, in the toilet and on the school bus - all over the show. It was a big part of my existence.

But then it started to impact on my health and I could not run up the stairs like I used to and I would be puffed out. I looked sallow, and drawn, with big bulging eyes, always reaching for a cigarette. I smoked 60 cigarettes a day at about 24 years of age, so you can imagine the impact on me if I had continued that way.

When I was 24, the messages were coming through about smoking being bad for your health, and the message was starting to stick with me. It was the education process. I knew I had to give up, but I did not want to do it a hundred times, like many people do.

I wanted to wait, and when I decided, in my own mind, to give up, I wanted to give it all my resources. At 24 years of age, the decision was made.

I will not say it was an epiphany, but I walked upstairs, gave the cigarettes over and said, 'That's it'. I think I might have told you before about the fellow who was there. I said I was giving up smoking and he said, 'No, no, no'. His name was Alan Venn, and I will be forever indebted to him because he bet me $5 I couldn't last a week. I said I will bet you $10 that I can last a fortnight. He said, you are on. It was my determination to get that $10 from Alan Venn that helped me over that hump of the first two weeks.

I want to talk about addiction because I do not think people understand how difficult that process is, physically, that affects you mentally. During that time I went cold turkey. Every day for probably the next year, my alarm clock that said it is time for a cigarette went off 60 times a day. I am sitting, trying to do my job, and boom, all of a sudden, in my gut, the shakes, I need a cigarette. That is when, as a smoker, you reach for a cigarette and, bang, the problem is solved and it is not an issue. With your nicotine addiction that you are trying to give up, that alarm goes off and your nicotine addiction is telling you that you are not going to be able to stand this all day. Have a smoke, because you are not going to be able to put up with this; you will go round the twist. That is your addiction playing tricks on you. Then I started to realise that, if I was able to survive that, have a drink of water, go for a walk, think about something else, then in a little while that would fade. Then I would be going on with something else and all of a sudden, bang, the alarm would go off again. It is an intense desire to have a cigarette and that is the addiction, the nicotine addiction.

People do not realise how strong it is and how so easily you can reach for another cigarette and then you are on the old tram again: I have to give up; I tried it the other day and failed again. Then you have a loss of self-esteem because you cannot actually crack it and you cannot beat this addiction. It is really very powerful. It frustrates me - it used to frustrate me - not so much now because with more education and more people understanding about the dangers of it, there is not as much of it going on. You have a lot of people who have more understanding of the addiction so you do not get that - there are more non-smokers around. I used to think that the people who were not smokers had that unsympathetic view towards smokers and did not realise how powerful that addiction was.

How good that society is changing, slowly but surely. It has taken a long time. Nearly everybody smoked. You were a dork if you did not smoke where I came from when I was a kid. You were the odd one out. Now, in a lot of ways, the smokers are the odd ones out so that is a really good, fantastic change. I remember, in London, where I have 14 friends. We met regularly in Sydney over the years and slowly but surely we lost smoker after smoker. We were sitting around the dinner table with 14 of us all smokers and today there are none. As long ago as 15 to 20 years ago there were no smokers at the table, so the times are changing.

But the cost - how are people affording to smoke? I cannot believe that people in their budgets are able to allocate that money. I remember years ago, if you were in England, the taxes used to come onto your cigarettes, your alcohol and your petrol. That was what the member for Nelson was talking about. For people in the lower socioeconomic area, what is their joy in life? Having a cigarette, having a drink and going for a drive with the family. They were all taxed heavily. Today, Carol was saying that she went to the shop and there was somebody in front of her buying cigarettes who bought eight packets, in a bundle, at $167. That is over $20 a packet. How do you budget for that? I could not. I could not be a smoker on three packets of cigarettes a day in this day and age. Slowly but surely, that has to be working in favour of what you are trying to achieve, member for Windermere. Did you hear the same example about this over the weekend; the news story in Scotland where there is concern about binge drinking? They were saying they were going to put a minimum price on alcohol and that it is going to cost you more to be a drinker and the poor lady bemoaning the fact that she is an alcoholic and she would not be able to afford to drink. That was her complaint. That was the object of the exercise. It was to make it too expensive for people to get into that habit of binge drinking.

The other thing is how you used to kid yourself. I was feigning a cough a while back. I remember dad had a cough. He was a heavy smoker and he had a cough. We would say, 'I cannot shake off this cold. I cannot shake off this cough from that cold I had a while back.' He kidded himself all the time that the cough was from a cold and it was from smoking and eventually emphysema was his big issue in life and that is a very inglorious and unpleasant way to pass away.

I have changed, society is changing, and it is very important that people have as good health as they possibly can. With the elimination of smoking from our society we are heading towards that ultimate goal of having - I think one of the sections here is about supporting a tobacco-free generation of children born this century in Tasmania. I worry about some of these movies these days and some of the high profile people, like Norm O'Neill that we have heard about, still being able to get away with showing smoking, women particularly, and young girls easily influenced, and boys easily influenced, by seeing their idols with cigarettes and going at it and saying, 'That will give me a foot in height if I can do the drawback and smoke like whoever.' That is the sort of thing that we have to make unfashionable, and that is the path down which we are heading with the way we are dealing with cigarette packaging.

It is an interesting debate. Keep talking about it, member for Windermere, because the more we are chipping away at this the more we will change society with education