The Tobacco Products Control Act was a law brought into effect in 2006 and significant amendments to it came into effect in September 2010.
The amendments resulted in bans on smoking in all outdoor eating areas; smoking in vehicles if a child under 17 years old was present; smoking within 10 metres of children’s playgrounds; and on the display of tobacco products and smoking implements in retail premises.
A decade on, the burning question is: Have the bans worked in reducing smoking and smoking-related harm?
Australian Council on Smoking and Health chief executive Maurice Swanson said amendments like these were important because legislation could always be improved.
“Tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death in Australia, as it causes the premature death of up to two thirds of people who smoke regularly,” he said.
Data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last month shows there has been a long-term downward trend in daily tobacco smoking since 1991, when 24 per cent of people smoked, to 11 per cent in 2019. There has also been an increase in the number of people choosing to never take up smoking, from 49% in 1991 to 63% in 2019..
The WA Department of Health has reported smoking prevalence in 12 to 17-year-olds has dropped in the last decade. The report also highlighted that, as opposed to the 5.7 per cent in 2011, by 2014 only 4.8 per cent of 12 to 14-year-olds had smoked in the past week.
Mr Swanson said: “One of the main reasons that the prevalence of smoking among young people is so low is because they now see fewer adult role models smoking.”
He said there was an enforcement inspectorate division within the health department tasked with ensuring retailers who sold tobacco complied with existing regulations.
Cancer Council policy research coordinator Nicholas Wood said: “The tangible costs of tobacco use in Australia are around $19 billion dollars per annum.”
He said tobacco-caused illnesses and disease required huge amounts of healthcare resources, resulted in high rates of absenteeism from work, reduced output while at work, and affected the financial well being of individuals, adding that these had “an extremely negative effect on the Australian economy”.
Reflecting on the 2010 amendments, Mr Swanson said they worked because they “de-normalised tobacco as a legitimate product”.
Nevertheless, the substitution of tobacco for e-cigarettes has been steadily on the rise. According ton the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 6.6 per cent of smokers reported in 2016 that they were using e-cigarettes, and by 2019 that figure had doubled to 12.2 per cent.
Mr Wood said we were unaware of how damaging e-cigarettes were and there was no conclusive evidence that they helped people to quit smoking. He said he feared they were simply designed to addict a new generation.
He would like to see future amendments to the act passed that would remove the ability of liquor licensed venues to designate outside dining areas for smoking.
Also looking to the future, Mr Swanson suggested a license fee for tobacco merchants that increased in a step-by-step fashion each year. He said: “Many small retailers would decide it’s not worth their while.”
He said ACOSH would be recommending examining ways of encouraging retailers to get out of tobacco selling, “because ultimately we want the sale of tobacco to be phased out over the next 10 years or so”.