Tuesday 24 March 2015

Hansard of the Legislative Council


GENERATION) BILL 2014 (No. 40)

Mr FINCH (Rosevears)- Mr President, first of all congratulations to the honourable member for Windermere for his indefatigable drive in this area of health in Tasmania.  It is something he strongly believes in, and I feel he will receive praise whichever way this debate goes.


There is no longer any dispute about the harm caused by smoking tobacco.  We are all familiar with at least some of the horrifying health statistics:  two out of three smokers, about 1.8 million Australians, will die because of their habit.  This is shown in the first largescale Australian study on the link between smoking and mortality published last month.


The study, published in the international journal BMC Medicine, found smoking reduced a smoker's life expectancy by 10 years on average.  The lead author of the study, Professor Emily Banks, said smoking was a very powerful addiction, and she hoped the findings would give people the information they needed to consider whether they should continue to smoke.  The study found that smoking 10 cigarettes a day doubles the risk of death.  Smoking 25 cigarettes increases the risk of death by four or five times.  The three main conditions that kill smokers are cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic lung disease.  People with those conditions fill many hospital beds in Tasmania and they are one of the main burdens on our health system.  However, there is some good news.  The study found that those who give up smoking before the age of 45 can mostly avoid the risks associated with smoking.


In debating this bill, we are not talking about the sometimes incredibly hard task of giving up, but about not starting in the first place.  There is no doubt that we must reduce smoking in Australia.  It is costing lives and it is costing health funds. 


So, how do you discourage Australians from taking up smoking, by some standards and views a seemingly senseless habit?  Some of you may remember Bob Newhart's comedy skit on Sir Walter Raleigh's arrival back from the Americas with samples of tobacco.  It was an interesting phone conversation that Bob Newhart was having with Wal, as he called him.  I will not go through it all but at Life Education Tasmania we used that skit to give an example to kids of the strangeness of bringing these leaves back from America and what do you do with them?  'What do you do with them, Wal?'  'You roll them up in paper.'  'Well, what do you do?'  'You light the end of it.'  'Then what do you do?'  'Well, you breathe it in.'  'Oh, is that good for you, Wal?'  Anyway, it was greeted with incredulity at that time by Bob Newhart.  If you go to YouTube, just type in 'Bob Newhart and Sir Walter Raleigh'.  Sir Walter Raleigh probably had no idea how addictive sucking in that tobacco smoke was, and he could have had no conception of how damaging it was to health.


As Professor Emily Banks said, and I quoted earlier, smoking is a very powerful addiction.  It is easier not to start the habit than to give it up later.  This bill is designed to discourage young people from starting.  It is well verified that making it harder to obtain a harmful substance, whether it is tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs, or other harmful drugs, reduces consumption.  We have all experienced this.  If an outlet is closed you cannot buy on impulse.  This bill is aimed at discouragement, not prevention.  It will not work perfectly in preventing the generation born after the year 2000 from taking up smoking, but it will make it harder.  It sends a message to the community at large, and especially those who will be 18 in three years, that smoking is harmful and they should think twice before risking addiction.


Certainly, as the member for Windermere clearly states, this bill will not penalise any member of the tobacco-free generation for smoking.  It will not prevent friends and family from giving tobacco products, such as a few cigarettes, to members of the tobacco-free generation, but they must not sell tobacco products to them.  This bill will not prevent botting of cigarettes by members of the tobacco-free generation.  They will be able to scrounge or borrow cigarettes, and will not be penalised.  However, it will stop the sale of tobacco products to anyone born since the year 2000 - the tobacco-free generation.


Sure, some are going to start smoking, but I will argue that there will be far fewer of them.  Far fewer of them will die from smoking.  Far fewer of them will occupy hospital beds.  Far more of them will live longer.  Far more of them will have more of their income to spend on non-tobacco products. 


As you heard from the member for Windermere, we have all been bombarded with emails and arguments from both sides of the debate.  Most of the correspondence I have received - like the member for Windermere - is in favour of the tobacco-free generation.  I will quote from a few emails in favour of this bill -


As an employee of the Hobart City Council I feel proud that this local government organisation has been creating smoke-free zones in Hobart, helping to reduce the cultural acceptability of smoking.  The public support to reduce smoking is very high.  The scene is set for you, as our legislators, to take the next step.  As a parent of two children born either side of 2000, and currently witnessing the pressure to smoke amongst the peers of my older child, I cannot think of one negative to taking smoking out of the world of our young people in the future.  Please give careful and serious consideration to this proposal, and be brave and progressive for our future.


Another partial quote from an email -


I am excited by the Tobacco Free Generation proposal and the chance for Tasmania to become world leaders in creating a healthy environment for our young people.  Whilst training to be a doctor I was struck by the number of people in hospital who were there because of tobacco - and alcohol-related diseases.  I remember thinking, as we walked around the large Melbourne hospital, this place would be practically empty if there were no cigarettes or alcohol.  As you may be aware, Tasmanians have higher rates of cigarette smoking than our city counterparts, so the picture here is even more shocking.  Many of the smoking-related conditions leave people breathless, sick and suffering for a long time.  Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, asthma, stroke, heart disease, chronic bronchitis.  This costs the person, their family and the government enormous amounts in quality of life, loss of productivity, as well as finances.


It goes on -


The smoking-related conditions that take people's lives quickly and prematurely - massive heart attack or stroke, lung cancer, stomach and throat cancer - are no easier for families and cost society dearly in the loss of the contribution to society and the workforce.  I am impressed by the research that backs up this proposal, showing that a majority of smokers support the idea of restricting sales to young people and phasing out the sales of cigarettes.  Most smokers want to quit, but find it difficult because of the addictive power of cigarettes, and do not want their children to make the same mistake they did.  Other research shows that the current age cut-off - 18 years - is a powerful incentive for young people to take up smoking, so that 'feeling grownup' is associated with starting an addictive habit that affects every organ system in their body, and affects the health and wellbeing of people around them.  We also know that young people starting smoking most often access their cigarettes from same-aged peers.  So, as the age for legally purchasing cigarettes slowly increases, the peer group being able to access them slowly disappears.


Can you imagine if cigarettes were a new product being introduced?  Would you support them being made available on our supermarket shelves? 


I must employ this person as a speech writer sometime, she is very good, Dr Towle.


This amendment is sensible.  As we gradually remove the main drivers for the uptake of smoking, peer pressure and the desire to appear 'adult', we will slow the rate of young people finding themselves addicted and unable to quit.  I have a son who is four years old.  As I look at my friends with teenage children, I think it would be fantastic to have one less thing to worry about when he is nearing 18.  Please show the people of Tasmania that you care more about the health of our children than the profits of the tobacco companies.


If you remain uncertain about supporting this amendment, I will be happy to provide references and further information to assist with your decision-making.


That is a rather long quote, but for many people it would have encapsulated the arguments for the bill we are debating. 


This Tobacco Free Generation initiative has received the support of the World Conference on Tobacco or Health.  The conference in Abu Dhabi a few days ago, as we heard from the member for Windermere, made the following statement which I would like to quote in part:


The 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health recognises that all tobacco products are harmful, that they are a leading cause of disease and death worldwide, that they pose an especially heavy burden on low- and middleincome countries, and should be de-normalised worldwide.  Addressing the tobacco epidemic must be an essential priority in the context of reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases and protection of youth.


The conference calls for collaboration and coordination at the local, national, regional and global levels, to fully implement the FCTC and to move tobacco control forward.  The conference calls on the global tobacco community to redouble its efforts and to reach out to additional stakeholders, and calls on governments to be held to their commitment at the World Health Assembly in 2013 and the sixth session of the FCTC Conference of the Parties in 2014, to reduce tobacco use prevalence by 30 per cent by 2025 through accelerated implementation of the FCTC.


The conference commends jurisdictions, including the Australian state of Tasmania, that are advancing initiatives to create tobacco-free generations for all persons born since the year 2000.


Mr President, let me go to the other side of the argument.  Some critics of this bill say it will be ineffective because young people born after 2000 will be able to circumvent the ban on retailers selling tobacco to them.  Yes, they will, but the ban will still discourage them from taking up smoking.  Some say making something hard to obtain merely increases its attraction.  Sometimes it does, but perhaps this proposed legislation should be given a chance, then we will see.


The major criticisms, of course, come from the tobacco industry and the retailers who make a living selling tobacco.  Some licensed tobacco sellers say they will go under if the bill becomes law.  It could be argued that this bill will not affect tobacco sales at all until 2018, and then not by much.  It will have an increasing effect on sales as those 18-year-olds in 2018 grow older and they are joined by more who are born after 2018.  It is unlikely to have a massive effect until at least another few decades, giving tobacco retailers plenty of time to put other eggs in their sales baskets.


In evidence to members, Imperial Tobacco's head of Corporate and Legal Affairs, Andrew Gregson, said the bill would result in people buying tobacco online or on the black markets.  The tobacco industry used similar arguments against Australia's plain packaging laws, saying they would increase the black market.  The Conversation, which is an online news service quoting papers by academics, seems to have debunked the black market argument.  One paper argues that plain packaging had no adverse effect on small retailers.  Representatives of Imperial Tobacco who briefed us recently were at pains to voice their support for regulations on tobacco sales, as long as they were practical, sensible and rational regulations.  I would just like to quote Mr Andrew Gregson -


We support sensible, practical and rational regulations.  It may sound a strange situation, but tobacco companies and particularly Imperial have supported a number of regulatory measures in respect of tobacco.  In certain instances we go beyond what is required by local or domestic regulation.


In general, if a regulation is sensible, rational and practical, we will support it.  In our submission, the proposal that is before you at the moment does not fit any of those criteria.


The member for Windermere, of course, disputes this.


What we have to decide during this debate is will this bill, if it becomes law, lower tobacco consumption by Tasmanians born after 2000 and will it ultimately prevent them developing tobaccorelated diseases?  It could be argued that even if it prevents only part of the post-2000 generation from becoming habitual smokers, it is worthy of support.  Against that, we must weigh the possible economic cost, if retailers' livelihoods are affected. 


We must always be conscious that unenforceable laws affect the public's perception of all laws.  Are the provisions of this bill, as far as they go, enforceable?  As far as preventing retailers selling tobacco products to the post-2000 generation, they are just as enforceable as the present restriction on selling to those under 18.


The bill does not go further than restrictions on retailers, nor does the longstanding ban on retailers selling tobacco to under 18-year-olds.  It has long been the case that under 18s can source their tobacco in other ways.  But certainly the ban on sales to under 18s has lessened their smoking.  There is no reason to doubt that this bill will lessen smoking by those born after the year 2000. 


There was the question in my mind of discrimination.  We had the example of a 32-yearold standing at the counter and a 31-yearold standing at the counter, with the 32-yearold able to purchase tobacco and the other one not.


We had evidence from the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Robin Banks, that this bill, if passed, would not give rise to the possibility of successful complaints of unlawful age discrimination because of the effect of exemptions found in section 24 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 and section 39 of the Commonwealth Age Discrimination Act 2004.


As far as my decision on this bill is concerned, as I said to Daniel McCulloch of the Examiner in a phone call yesterday, it is a real conundrum.  There are two sides to this story and one could go either way.


I want to listen to what other members have to say.  I have made an argument for one side but I want to hear what others have to say to see where my support goes.