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

7:27 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I rise to speak on a matter of significant importance to the public health of Australians, and that is the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023 and a consequential amendments and transitional provisions bill. These bills aim to streamline tobacco regulation in Australia. The primary purpose of the bills is to consolidate the various tobacco regulations into one legislative package with the aim of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of Australia's tobacco control framework. The coalition supports this aim in recognition of its importance to public health outcomes in this country. However, we have significant concerns that this bill completely ignores the critical issue impacting the effectiveness of tobacco control in Australia right now, which is the growing black market

It is crucial to first acknowledge the historical context of tobacco regulation in Australia. In 2012, Australia became the first country to implement plain-packaging laws, a critical step in the global fight against tobacco use. There has been a longstanding bipartisan commitment to addressing this critical public health issue, with both Labor and coalition governments consistently raising tobacco excise taxes and implementing further measures to reduce affordability and to discourage smoking amongst the Australian population. In addition to plain packaging, graphic health warnings highlighting the devastating effects of smoking related diseases have been introduced on tobacco products in order to further discourage consumption. Australia also has stringent restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion, ensuring that tobacco companies can't exploit loopholes for indirect promotion. The Australian government has been proactive in providing support for smoking cessation programs and services, including nicotine replacement therapy and support helplines. This multifaceted approach has been instrumental in reducing tobacco consumption in this country.

This bill seeks to further regulate tobacco and e-cigarette advertising and sponsorships, prohibiting practices that may encourage consumption, including restrictions on advertising and promotion. It mandates the requirements for plain packaging of tobacco products, including stringent regulations on the appearance, content and standards of tobacco products to further discourage consumption.

Certain tobacco items intended for oral use like chewing tobacco and snuff will face permanent bans in line with existing bans on similar products. Reporting entities will be required to submit detailed reports on tobacco products sold and supplied, and advertising, as well as on research and development activities. The bill establishes provisions for compliance and enforcement, including the appointment of authorised officers and civil penalty provisions to ensure the regulations are followed. The bill also includes various provisions related to delegation and Constitutional matters to support the effectiveness and implementation of these regulations.

While the coalition supports these bills and their aim to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of tobacco control framework in Australia, it is with deep disappointment that we express our concerns regarding a crucial aspect of this bill that it does not address—that is, the rampant and growing issue of the illicit tobacco trade in our country.

The illicit tobacco trade in Australia is a matter of increasing concern. It's absolutely undeniable that without addressing the illicit tobacco trade, the effectiveness of existing tobacco control measures will continue to be undermined, and a thriving black market will be further encouraged. This poses a serious threat to public health, to law and order, to government revenue, and to the very objectives that this public health bill seeks to achieve. Despite the importance of addressing the illicit tobacco trade to the effectiveness of Australia's tobacco control, this bill does not address this growing illegal tobacco trade. While the bill focuses on imposing penalties for noncompliance with legal tobacco regulations, it falls short when it comes to deterring and penalising those involved in the illicit tobacco trade. The penalties for engaging in this illegal activity remained largely unchanged, even in the face of the growing threat that it presents.

To effectively control and combat the illegal tobacco trade, a coordinated effort is absolutely essential. It requires not only strict penalties but also proactive measures aimed at dismantling the illegal tobacco networks that thrive in the shadows. These networks operate with relative impunity, undermining public health objectives and costing the government significant revenue. The illegal tobacco trade is multifaceted and it affects various aspects of society. The availability of cheaper, unregulated tobacco products encourages smokers to continue their habit or entices potential new entrants, defeating the purpose of public health measures. This illicit trade also results in significant revenue losses for the government, funds that could otherwise be directed towards essential public services. This figure, from various sources, is now in the billions. It continues to grow, and it is unacceptable.

The existence of a thriving black market for tobacco products undermines the effectiveness of tobacco control measures such as an excise tax and plain-packaging laws. The illegal tobacco trade often involves organised crime and money-laundering, contributing to a broader range of criminal activities. The coalition strongly believes that addressing the illegal tobacco trade must be an integral part of any comprehensive tobacco control strategy. We consider that significantly increasing penalties associated with the illegal tobacco trade should be given appropriate consideration. This not only serves as a deterrent but also allows for a more effective legal action against those involved in this illicit activity.

Coordinated efforts between law enforcement agencies, border control and other relevant authorities are essential to dismantling illegal tobacco networks. Educating the public about the risks and implications of illegal tobacco consumption is also critical—this can reduce the demand for illegal products. Given the global nature of the illegal tobacco trade, international collaboration with countries where these products are manufactured or trafficked is also crucial. Importantly, comprehensive data and research on the scale of the illegal tobacco trade in Australia is needed to inform policy decisions effectively. The coalition cannot overlook the growing issue of illegal tobacco trade in this country. We are deeply disappointed that this bill does not adequately address this pressing concern and that, therefore, the success of public health measures contained in this legislation is seriously compromised. Without addressing the growing black market, this bill risks not being worth the paper that it is written on.

The bill's objectives can be fully achieved only through a coordinated, comprehensive and robust effort to combat this growing problem, which is the growing black market in both illicit tobacco and vaping products. Just as the government is failing to address the issue of illicit tobacco, they're clearly asleep at the wheel when it comes to children accessing vaping products. Until existing tobacco and vaping laws are actually enforced—particularly, making sure that Australian children are protected from getting access to these products, through proper enforcement at the point of sale—then they cannot expect to achieve better outcomes in this critical and urgent area. This bill in no way seeks to address the issue of enforcement, which is underpinning a thriving black market in Australia.

Likewise, we have serious concerns that the vaping regulations the minister is seeking to put through this place before the end of the year will fail to address enforcement based on what we've heard so far. For this reason, the bill we are debating today and the vaping regulations that have been foreshadowed by the minister will not protect Australia's children from accessing these dangerous products. Until a comprehensive effort to enforce current laws and regulations is undertaken and until the black market is addressed, we will not achieve better public health outcomes in our country when it comes to Australians' uptake of smoking and vaping. That is why I'm foreshadowing that I will move a second reading amendment which notes that this bill fails to combat the trade of illicit tobacco and calls on the government to commit to combating this trade as a priority. If the government wants to retain any credibility on protecting Australians and pursuing real public health outcomes, then it is imperative that they make this commitment. I move:

At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate:

(a) notes that the bill fails to combat the trade of illicit tobacco; and

(b) calls on the Government to commit to combating this trade as a priority".

7:36 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm speaking today on behalf of the Australian Greens in support of the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023. The Greens welcome this legislation which consolidates tobacco control laws and regulatory instruments and implements stricter controls on tobacco products.

The Greens have always supported a reduction in the rate of tobacco use. The active and passive consumption of tobacco smoke is a demonstrated health risk and is a significant cost to the community and health care more broadly. According to the Cancer Council, about two million Australians currently still smoke regularly and an estimated 20,500 people die each year in Australia of smoking related illnesses. Let's just reflect on that for a moment. Over 20,000 people every year die of smoking related illnesses. That is completely unacceptable in 2023. Smoking is a major cause not just of cancer of the lung but also cancer of the head and neck, the oesophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, bowel, the kidney and bladder, and the cervix, as well as acute myeloid leukaemia. It is expected that, on the current trajectory, cigarette smoking will cause more than 250,000 cancer deaths in Australia between 2020 and 2044. If you stop for a moment to think about the grief unleashed by that number—250,000—and the pain endured by so many, there is nothing that this chamber should be focused on in this moment except for the reality of the cost to human life and the impact of that on the community. We must be moved in this moment to be bold and to tackle this continuing, pervasive evil—this health based nightmare that continues to cause so much damage to so many Australians.

In addition to cancers, cigarette smoking is a major cause of heart disease and stroke, and it is a causative factor for many chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular degeneration, cataracts, peptic ulcers, impotence, fertility problems—all of which greatly affect quality of life. What we know, clearly, and what we have known for all too long is that this is not the only cost in relation to quality of life and life expectancy. There are also clear economic costs. This bill provides an opportunity for Australia to lead the world in reducing the consumption of tobacco products, to improve the quality of life for our community and to better support our health system.

This bill alone will not provide the community with the support it needs in full. I want to highlight the words of the Public Health Association of Australia, who said in their submission to the inquiry into the bill:

It is essential that the Bill be understood as one component of the many-pronged National Tobacco Strategy. The Strategy sets the vision for reducing, and ideally eliminating, the harm caused by tobacco and associated products. The elements of this Strategy, including strong regulation, workplace safety measures, cessation support, information and behaviour change campaigns, revenue measures, approaches for priority populations including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the protection of policy-making from commercial interference, are all interlocking and mutually supporting. The Strategy should remain a guiding framework for policy work through the current decade.

In this, we urge the government to prioritise education campaigns, nicotine-dependence programs and better smoking-cessation tools which aim to support people to give up cigarettes.

Additionally, as will be highlighted by the second reading amendment which will be moved by my colleague Senator Whish-Wilson, there are environmental as well as public health reasons to discourage the use of tobacco products. According to the not-for-profit No More Butts Campaign, up to 4.5 trillion cigarette butts become litter globally. In Australia, a World Wildlife Fund report estimated that up to 8.9 billion cigarette butts become litter each year. Cigarette butts are one of the three most common types of rubbish found in the Great Barrier Reef's marine environment. I urge the Senate to support this second reading amendment, in support of Australia's environment, which, critically, cannot be overlooked in the course of this debate.

The Greens have always supported the critical need for a ban on donations from the tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical industries to Australian political parties and candidates. The influence of these lobbies on the work of this place is toxic. In relation to tobacco, it prevented for decades the adequate action that was needed to address this public health crisis. I shudder to think of the tens of thousands of lives lost in this country and all over the world because of actions that were stymied, stalled or shelved altogether because of the financial influence of big tobacco. It is a shame upon any and every political party that ever took donations and on any and every political party that still takes them to this day. It is nothing short of blood money, and it has no place in a modern-day democracy.

Alcohol and tobacco policy development should occur without alcohol and tobacco company involvement; this should not be a bold thing to say in 2023. As my colleague Senator Waters said in relation to her private senator's bill to ban dirty donations:

In the past decade, $230 million have flowed in corporate donations to the Labor, Liberal and National parties from the likes of the big banks; from industries like mining, defence and big pharma; from property developers; and from alcohol, tobacco and gambling companies. These are just some of the industries that have paid the Liberal, National and Labor parties to put their private profits ahead of the needs of our community. These industries are not donating millions of dollars because they believe in the institution of strong democracy. They are donating because it gets results for them.

I couldn't have said it better myself: they donate to political parties to get outcomes, and those outcomes are to the detriment of the Australian people and our environment. They should be banned. They should have been banned decades ago.

In every other space of regulation or proper work, this type of influence peddling would not be allowed. Yet in politics it is accepted as business as usual by people in this place. It is not accepted by the Australian public. The Australian public find the continued presence of corporate donations in politics to the very people given the jobs of regulating those industries and making those policies repugnant. That sense of revulsion reaches across the great divide of Australian politics and is felt deeply in the hearts of conservatives and progressives, and people everywhere in between. They want to see their democracy work for people, not for corporate profits. While the Greens remain in the Senate, on these crossbenches, that will be the goal we work towards.

I indicate the support of the Australian Greens for Senator Pocock's amendment, which calls on politicians and all political parties to stop accepting political donations from the tobacco industry and to revoke any passes they have sponsored for members of the tobacco industry and their agents to access Parliament House. It is not a radical idea. Let's make sure that the merchants of death can't stalk the corridors of this place and influence the conversations about how we curtail and prevent the disastrous public health consequences and the human impact of the products they peddle and profit from.

I indicate as well that the Greens are supportive of this legislation within the context where it is a tool in the toolbox to tackle this profound public health challenge. I once again commend Senator Whish-Wilson for his important amendment. With that, I will conclude my remarks.

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.