Tobacco for decades has been the leading cause of preventable premature death in Australia.
Every year it kills at least 15,000 Australians and costs our economy a staggering $31 billion. Smokers occupy around 750,000 bed days in our hospitals and cost our health system more than $600 million a year.
Tasmania especially stands to gain from the new measures, with the highest percentage of current smokers (24.9%) of all the States, according to the last National Health Survey. That’s one in four adults, compared with one in five as the average for Australia. Of our 18 – 24 year olds in Tasmania, 37.3% smoke (vs 23.1% nationally).
There is also a huge social gradient in smoking rates in Tasmania that cannot and will not be overcome simply by spending more on mass media quit campaigns. For example, 63.5% of unemployed people smoke in Tasmania. Smoking rates are almost four times greater amongst the poorest and most socially disadvantaged Tasmanians compared to the wealthiest and most socially advantaged.
The figures are shocking and we need every (evidence-based) assistance we can get to improve them.
Suggestions that the increase in the price of cigarettes will hit some sections of society harder than others ignore the real point – they are the ones who already pay the highest health price and who are most likely to quit and to benefit. The poor already spend a substantial proportion of their income on tobacco, often forgoing the essentials of life.
Smoking is a major factor in health inequalities. Tobacco addiction causes a significant part of the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, between rich and poor Australians, between city dwellers and rural and remote Australians.
We have known for a long time – and tobacco companies know it all too well - that price and promotion and accessibility are key factors in perpetuating the tobacco epidemic, with price increases being the most effective means to reducing smoking. This is evident in the sharp reduction of tobacco consumption in Australia in 2000-1 following sharp price increases in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
The Prime Minister’s $2 a pack price increase and plain paper packaging may well prove to be the most effective public health measures for Tasmania since the banning of tobacco advertising on television.
These measures will prevent the uptake of smoking and addiction among our youth as well as prompt more to quit, and reduce prolonged pain and suffering for untold numbers in this and future generations. As health professionals who on a daily basis witness the human suffering and tragedy caused by tobacco, we have a professional duty of care to support this policy reform.
Bruce Felmingham is right (Sunday Tasmanian, May 2) – it is hard to disagree with the Rudd Government’s attack on the addiction of tobacco smoking.
Yes, there will be revenue benefits to government from taxation increases on tobacco, but where better to raise revenue than a ‘win win’ policy like this?
Dr Roscoe Taylor, Director of Public Health
Dr Adrian Reynolds, Clinical Director, Alcohol & Drug Service
Gwyneth Fullard, Smoking Cessation Coordinator, Alcohol & Drug Service