Senate debates

Friday, 22 June 2012



3:14 pm

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On 31 May this year there was the celebration of World No Tobacco Day, and the theme for this year's event was tobacco industry interference. According to the World Health Organisation, this year's campaign focused on the need to expose and counter the tobacco industry's brazen, nefarious and increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Recently, at the 15th World Conference on Tobacco and Health, in Singapore, the World Health Organisation's director-general, Margaret Chan, applauded Australia's determination in fighting tobacco industry intimidation. She urged the world to stand shoulder to shoulder against the tobacco industry's attempts to intimidate and overturn Australia's new path-breaking tobacco control laws. She said:

We must make plain packaging a big success so that it becomes the success of the world.

The Cancer Council of Australia and the Heart Foundation have advised that tobacco kills over 15,000 Australians every year, and is widely recognised as the single largest cause of illness and premature death in this country.

The World Health Organisation have advised that the global tobacco epidemic kills nearly six million people each year and that if we do not act now we will kill up to eight million people by 2030, of which more than 80 per cent will live in low- and middle-income countries. World Health Organisation figures have indicated that, while tobacco consumption is decreasing in some high-income and upper-middle-income developed countries, consumption of tobacco products globally is still increasing. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that tobacco is still a growth industry in developing countries.

Senators may have seen the distressing report on smoking amongst children in Indonesia on the ABC's 7:30 program this week. The report highlighted the fact that as smoking rates shrink in wealthier Western countries the tobacco industry is shifting their focus to countries like Indonesia, leading to a massive increase in smoking rates even among children. The report described the story of Hadi Ilam, an eight-year-old Indonesian boy who has been smoking for four years, and also his and his family's struggle to get cigarettes out of their lives. Matthew Myers from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in the report:

Indonesia faces a public health tragedy from smoking that's probably as great or greater as any nation in the world. With so many children starting, they're facing a true epidemic.

Countries like Indonesia, with weaker tobacco regulation and standards of public health, are an easy target for profit-driven and greedy tobacco companies, and when governments attempt to get on the front foot against big tobacco they often find themselves in court.

The theme of this year's World No Tobacco Day highlighted the fact that, as many countries, including developing countries, move to meet their obligations under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, big tobacco is aggressively undermining and attacking these new tobacco control initiatives. As the World Health Organisation Director-General puts it: 'The industry is stepping out of the shadows and into the courtrooms.' The tobacco industry is desperately waging war on governments who seek to protect their citizens by working to create smoke-free work and public places, who are working to inform the public of the disastrous health implications of smoking and passive smoking and who seek to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

The Australian government is currently being sued in relation to its plain packaging laws under a bilateral trade agreement with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. We are also being sued in domestic courts by the tobacco industry. I am certain that the Australian government will defend itself vigorously, but let me assure you that Australia is not the only country currently defending its citizens from tobacco companies in the courts. Norway, Turkey and Uruguay are also currently battling tobacco industry lawsuits in their national courts. It is my view that these lawsuits are not just an attempt by the tobacco industry to protect their lethal products and their profits but also a deliberate attempt to intimidate other countries seeking to introduce stronger tobacco control measures.

But the fight against the tobacco epidemic is not solely the responsibility of governments. I was heartened to read in the Macarthur Chronicle on 29 May that the Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation was marking World No Tobacco Day by staging an event featuring fun and educational activities teaching people about the harmful effects of smoking. Events like these are especially important given the high rates of smoking in Indigenous communities around Australia. On World No Tobacco Day the World Health Organisation urged countries to put the fight against tobacco industry interference at the heart of their efforts to control the global tobacco epidemic. I strongly support the World Health Organisation in their endeavours. I congratulate the World Health Organisation for their efforts to eradicate these insidious and deadly products from people's lives.

I conclude my remarks by joining with my colleague Senator Moore on this Friday afternoon in commending the Deputy Clerk of the Senate for his meritorious two decades of service. I have no doubt he will be very relieved when I sit down so he can go home and celebrate.