Tasmania: leading the way towards an endgame for smoking

Kathryn Barnsley, University of Tasmania

The island state of Tasmania off the south coast of Australia has a population of around 500,000 and has high smoking rates, and lower socio-economic status, compared to other states in Australia.

Over the past fifteen years Tasmania has implemented a range of legislative reforms designed to reduce tobacco use. At the point of sale, graphic health warnings must be displayed and products must be out of sight. The tobacco industry has been prevented from making misleading statements about the health of tobacco products and about legislation. Smoking is banned in gaming areas, nightclubs (2005) and pubs (2006). Fruit flavoured cigarettes are illegal and smoking in cars where children are present is banned.  Fines in each case are substantial and laws have been enforced.

In May 2012, Professor Jon Berrick, a co-author of a proposal for a smoke free generation visited Tasmania and met with Tasmania’s Minister for Health and Human Services Michelle O’Byrne, SmokeFree Tasmania and University of Tasmania researchers who have been exploring the potential benefits of cigarette engineering. The subsequent publicity inspired a member of the Legislative Council, the Upper House of Parliament, Hon Ivan Dean to put together a set of proposals to move Tasmania forwards in eradicating tobacco use in the long term. Mr Dean, a former police officer and former Mayor of Launceston (a regional centre) had previously campaigned for outdoor smoking bans in his municipality.

On 21 August 2012 Hon Ivan Dean, incorporating a number of these ideas, moved the following motion in the Tasmanian Parliament, which was carried unanimously and supported by the members of both the Labor and Greens parties that are in Government:

“That the Legislative Council calls on the Government to initiate and promote measures,  including if necessary further legislative measures, to restrict access to tobacco products and reduce smoking and the harmful effects of smoking by

(1) Supporting a tobacco free generation of children born this century in Tasmania;

(2) Banning flavourings, additives and filter ventilation (including menthol) in tobacco products sold in Tasmania;

(3) Progressively reducing the availability of tobacco products in Tasmania;

(4) Requiring the Education Department to implement evidence-based, monitored and evaluated anti-tobacco education and smoking cessation programs in all government schools on an ongoing basis.”

The Education Department should switch from a punitive approach to smoking to one that focuses more positively on cessation support for students. The proposal forecasts a reduction in retail outlets or other mechanisms for reducing availability. As Tasmania already has a licensing system, and effective enforcement for retail sales, this can be tackled.

The great novelty of Mr Dean’s proposal is that it incorporates two key elements that have been proposed as elements of planning for a tobacco end-game. These are mandated product modification to make cigarettes less addictive and/or palatable and the birth-date bases proscription of tobacco purchase and use that would forever prohibit the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after the year 2000.

The proposal does not have the status of law but is an exceptionally influential instrument. The Legislative Council is the most powerful Upper House in Australia. The Governments cannot pass legislation, including budgets, without its support.

The government supported the concept and the Minister has already referred the matter to the Children’s Commissioner for a report. The next steps will most probably be the production of an Options or Discussion paper followed by community consultation prior to drafting legislation.

Watch a report by Al Jazeera here.

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