Senate debates

Monday, 27 November 2023


Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023, Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2023

7:47 pm

Photo of Fatima PaymanFatima Payman (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023. We have introduced this bill because, unlike those opposite, the Labor Party will always prioritise the health and wellbeing of all Australians. This bill is an extension of the world-leading tobacco control reforms introduced by past Labor governments, including the tobacco plain packaging reforms which reduced the appeal of tobacco products, made health warnings more effective and removed misleading information on packaging.

When the then Labor Minister for Health introduced the plain packaging reforms, it was unprecedented. However, since then, over 26 countries have introduced similar reforms. This is a policy that has saved lives and will continue to save lives. When plain packaging was introduced, around 16 per cent of Australians were daily smokers. This has reduced by five per cent, the equivalent of one million—yes, that's right—fewer Australians being everyday smokers. I am proud that today we are building on this legacy by introducing bold legislation that will help save more lives and protect the health and wellbeing of Australians.

We must recognise that tobacco use remains the leading cause of death and disability among Australians. It is an industry that is estimated to kill more than 20,000 Australians each year, and it is a leading cause of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Under the former government, Australia dropped the ball on tobacco reform. For over nine long years, tobacco's regulation lagged behind the world. For nine long years, they neglected the health of Australians. While Australia's plain packaging measures introduced by Labor have made it harder for tobacco companies to market its products through packaging and brand design, the tobacco industry has found new loopholes to promote its products and increase their appeal, because the slow-alition couldn't keep up for the nine years they were in government.

What is more concerning to me is that, due to their lack of action, young people are most at risk now. The tobacco industry is creating a new generation of smokers. We cannot let this continue. As Minister Butler said:

Once again, it falls to a Labor government to close the loopholes that undermine our tobacco control measures and to shield Australians against the tricks and tactics of the tobacco industry.

I commend Minister Butler for his work on strengthening tobacco control and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of Australians and our young people.

This bill consolidates the existing Commonwealth tobacco control framework into one act with associated regulations, thereby streamlining the operation of the laws. It also modernises and simplifies the existing provisions and introduces new measures to discourage smoking and prevent the promotion of vaping and e-cigarettes.

The bill achieves a number of important objectives, including expanding advertising prohibitions to reduce the public's exposure to the advertising and promotion of e-cigarettes and other novel and emerging products, particularly in youth and young adult spaces; the continuation of plain packaging requirements with additional prescription in the regulation for measures to enhance the regime, including the standardisation of tobacco product size in terms of the packs and pouches and cigarette stick sizes; restrictions on the use of brand and variant names that falsely imply reduced harm; the mandatory disclosure of sales, volume and pricing data and advertising, promotion and sponsorship expenditure; improved coverage, enforcement and compliance for tobacco control; updated and improved health warnings on tobacco product packaging to better inform consumers about the effects of tobacco use; stronger regulation of product features that are known to make tobacco products more attractive to consumers, including prohibiting in tobacco products such as crush balls and flavour beads; and restrictions on the use of ingredients or additives that enhance the attractiveness and flavour of tobacco products.

This bill is critical in protecting all Australians by reducing the prevalence of tobacco and its use and its associated health, social and environmental costs. It is consistent with Australia's obligations as a signatory to the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which aims to protect present and future generations from the harms of tobacco use and the exposure to tobacco smoke.

The provisions also reflect the best available evidence and the experience of other regulators overseas, including New Zealand, Canada and Uruguay. The bill will work in conjunction with the National Tobacco Strategy 2023-2030, which aims to achieve a national daily smoking prevalence of less than 10 per cent by 2025 and less than five per cent by 2030, and reduce the daily smoking rate for First Nations people to 27 per cent or less by the end of this decade.

The Albanese government is determined to tackle the harms caused by smoking and is committed to introducing new controls on e-cigarettes and vaping to protect our young people. As a young person, it is the risk to my peers that I am most concerned about if this bill doesn't pass, and I refuse to sit by and watch the tobacco industry create a new generation of smokers. Sadly, there are many real-life examples that underscore the urgent need for this legislation. Communities around Australia are grappling with the consequences of tobacco use and addiction and they are rightly concerned about the increasing uptake amongst youth. Parents do not want to see their children become entangled in the web of smoking and vaping because what may begin as experimental stuff and puffs may soon morph into a lifelong habit. Countless young Australians are being lured into addiction through the deceptive tactics of the tobacco industry, and we must put a stop to it. We cannot allow our youth to succumb to the lure of fruity flavoured vaping products. Make no mistake, these products are specifically designed by the tobacco industry to appeal to our young people and they are succeeding. The sweet and fruity flavours mask the harsh reality of the devastating health risks that young people are exposing themselves to. The tobacco industry's relentless pursuit of profit is coming at the expense of our youth and their health.

I'd like to share some reflections from the WA Commissioner for Children and Young People's Talking about vaping survey conducted in May of this year involving 3,303 participants in WA aged between 12 and 18 years. A 17-year-old female participant said, 'One thing I would like young vapers to know is that there are other better ways of satisfying yourself than infusing your lungs with battery acid and rat poison. There is more to life than deciding which flavour of smoke you want to inhale next. I also wish they knew about how much danger they are putting themselves in, not just their lungs and health but the danger of their vapes exploding. On multiple occasions people have had their vapes explode in their pockets or faces causing serious damage and harm. These injuries usually happen when a vape has been reused or recharged, which is often what has been done to these vapes being sold to young schoolkids.' A 14-year-old female who quit vaping said, 'The way that vapes are packaged and the flavours vape companies are producing, it is very targeted towards kids. It is also about how everyone is doing it. Kids get involved in trying to fit in and trying it and then 'boom, you are addicted and spending $35 to $40 every week on them.'

When asked about solutions, many participants said they wanted stricter rules to prevent or stop vaping, especially through banning or restriction on the production, promotion and sale of vapes, especially to young people, as well as the greater education around vaping and its consequences. A 14-year-old male said the best solution is 'stopping vape resellers or shutting down vapes stores altogether'. A 15-year-old female said, 'More education about vaping is needed mainly directed towards the eshays and popular students who do vape because they don't understand the consequences and only laugh about it. You could even possibly bring in a person who has suffered from lung cancer by smoking or vaping or just any diseases that are caused by vaping and smoking.'

Well, young people of WA, this legislation is our response. In fact, young people of Australia: it is the government doing its part to shield our youth from an industry that relies on deceptive tactics and encourages addiction. The Albanese government is determined to see Australia reclaim its position as a world leader on tobacco control because the fact of the matter is lives are at stake and vulnerable Australians are paying the price for big tobacco's profits. The best part about this bill is that it enables the government to be responsive to any new misleading or deceptive approaches that may be introduced by the tobacco industry in the future, ensuring policies can continue to be informed by best practice and emerging evidence. And by closing loopholes and modernising our tobacco control measures, we are also rewriting the narrative for young Australians, offering them a future free from tobacco addiction. Globally, we have seen the momentum on tobacco control continue. This bill will ensure that Australia is no longer falling behind.

Debate interrupted.


No comments