Smoking, as a public health issue, has an economic dimension in terms of productivity and spending on health for public and private sectors.
COVID-19 has challenged us this last year, and our government has risen to the occasion by following public health advice and taking strict action on quarantine, isolation, testing and social distancing. Our lives have been affected - and we will hopefully soon be vaccinated.
We know that 560 Tasmanians die every year from the effects of tobacco smoking, most in a hospital. From COVID19, there were 13 deaths and we shut down the state - a position I supported.
We know that the costs of smoking related chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart disease, other cancers and diseases cost the Tasmanian economy over $600 million per annum.
Tasmanians must improve their health, and the government has said it will put out yet another strategy soon. However, their 2016 "Strategy" was a failure, as evidenced by recent reports from the Productivity Commission on Tasmania's health system. (Examiner January 31) The strategy called for a reduction of Tasmanian smoking rates to 10 per cent by 2020, 5 per cent by 2025. Instead, it remains stalled, at 17.6 per cent.
The government also said: "...If this target is not met, we will revisit other policy options, including the Minimum Legal Smoking Age proposal."
Lost productivity in workplaces causes significantly increased costs to business, and it is you and I - the consumer who pay for this loss. According to another recent study, "....smoking increases both the risk and number of sickness absence days in working populations, regardless of study location, gender, age, and occupational class."
If Tasmania is to succeed economically into the future, we must reduce smoking by slowing uptake and by helping currently addicted smokers to quit.
Another 1200 Tasmanian 18-year-olds start smoking every year - that will mean more than 8200 new smokers aged 18 to 21, many of them young pregnant women, have started smoking since 2014. About two-thirds of this important new generation (5400) will die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses, and most in a hospital.
Tasmanian economist Dr. Graeme Wells' paper titled T21: Raising the minimum age for tobacco sales in Tasmania to 21 years Economic Analysis which focussed on small business in Tasmania, reported that: "An indicative long-run effect for the small and medium business sector is a cut in constant-price gross profit of $3 -$4m per annum. This is much less than a conservative estimate of the long-run effect of T21 on tangible costs to Tasmania, of $72m per annum."
Smoking is not safe at any age, and arguments about raising the tobacco sales age to 21 years (T21) which focus on 18-year-olds being able to engage in other adult activities are a distraction. That is why I initially proposed a phase out of smoking through the tobacco free generation (TFG), and later in 2018 introduced the T21 bill because the government had proposed T21 in 2015 and refused to support the TFG. Extensive consultation has taken place on this bill since it was introduced.
There is now extensive research overseas on the effect of T21, which shows it is effective in reducing smoking uptake by young people. Research in Tasmania by the Menzies Institute for Medical Research showed that young people want something to be done to reduce uptake of smoking and there is good support for T21 in the state.
Tasmania now has a baseline of data to allow the T21 legislation to be evaluated if enacted. These can be read on the SmokeFree Tasmania website. T21 is cautious incrementalism, other bolder proposals are in the pipeline across Australia.
There would be no new black market, because there will still be 500+ tobacco retailers and 70,500 smokers. Tasmania will remain awash with tobacco products. Young people already share cigarettes.
T21 will take cigarettes out of schools because no one will be old enough to legally buy them. The crucial peer supply nexus will be broken. Under the bill, underage smokers would not be penalized - only sellers of the product.
The Australian Council on Smoking and Health in WA, and Professors Mike Daube and Rob Moodie recommend a complete phase out of the sale of cigarettes by 2030. T21 seems a bit insipid compared to these forward-thinking proposals. Yet there are objections about even taking this small step.
Some would prefer to do nothing and continue failing to reduce smoking rates. Some prefer to build new hospitals to fill up with smokers, and see businesses suffer with smoking staff constantly ill, and our economy lag. These are lazy attitudes. T21 is intended to cut the number of young people taking up smoking. We need to act and stop wringing our hands in despair. All political parties should support this.We hear the call for jobs, jobs, jobs - but workers need to be healthy to take up jobs, and maintain productivity, not taking sick days due to smoking.
T21 will help to ensure fewer Tasmanians suffer from debilitating smoking-related illnesses. Our health is vital, for our social life and for our community. It is fundamentally important to have a healthy population for a healthy economy.
- Ivan Dean, independent Windermere MLC
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