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Banning smoking is about saving lives

Banning smoking is about saving lives

There is a compelling observation from a current smoker in the pages of the State Government’s Tasmanian Tobacco Action Plan 2022-2026: “If it’s not around, you’re not going to buy it and you’re not going to smoke.”

This gets to the very heart of what action is needed if the government is serious about reducing the health impacts from smoking.

Pleasingly, the report also contains an action that the government will review aged-based laws in relation to the sale of smoking products and monitor the progress of New Zealand’s ‘Smokefree Generation’ which will outlaw the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after a certain date, eventually, in theory, eliminating tobacco use.

New Zealand’s smoking rate is about 11 per cent. Tasmania’s is 17.6 per cent – the second highest in the nation. On that basis alone, let’s hope the Government’s review of New Zealand’s determined plan to rid the country of a product that has caused untold death and misery translates very quickly into some level of action the plan’s title promises.

The fact is, the measures outlined by the action plan, while commendable, don’t exactly paint a different picture of how the State Government is going to tackle an issue that costs Tasmania lives and money every single day.
Worryingly, it also contains a nod to the Federal Government’s role in tobacco control, in what could be seen as an attempt to make it clear that the State doesn’t, can’t, or won’t have all the answers.

Mass marketing campaigns, extra assistance for people giving up, better education for young people – these initiatives have been around for decades, and we still have a situation where about one in every six Tasmanians is lighting up, putting them ever closer to serious, if not fatal, health outcomes.

That’s not to say these strategies haven’t played a significant role in getting to where we are, but there’s an argument that if we are going to get serious about making Tasmanians healthier, then we need to start shifting the dial and be much bolder and braver in our commitment to change starting with smoking – and vaping for that matter – that needs to go.

As I write this, just over 100 Tasmanians have died of COVID-19. Since the pandemic began two years ago, more than 1000 Tasmanians have died from smoking, yet, for some reason, you won’t find daily tallies of smoking deaths reported in the media, even though it’s killing us almost tenfold more.

The millions we as a state have spent on COVID-19 measures; the discipline with which we as citizens have largely adopted to get vaccinated, stay socially distanced, wear masks – yet one in every six of us still legally does something that is almost more certain to harm us in the long term. In some of our more financially poorer suburbs, that smoking rate climbs to as many as one in every three people.

Six years ago, then-MLC Ivan Dean fronted Parliament and stated that the smoking buck stopped there. He outlined his plan to implement a Tasmanian smoke-free generation, banning tobacco sales to people of a certain age for the rest of their lives.

It didn’t get up. Lack of government support saw Mr Dean shelve his Bill. At the time, the Government was quoted as saying it saw “problems in terms of how realistic and workable” the proposal was. For a time, it appeared a spinoff result may have been a raising of the legal smoking age to 21 or even 25, but that was stubbed out as well.

So now New Zealand is moving on creating a generation of non-smokers by simply banning them access to tobacco. And we’ll look at how it goes. In the meantime, a few more thousand Tasmanians will take up tobacco smoking, and, in time, many of those will die from it.

The fact that it took four attempts to get Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation passed through Tasmanian Parliament, even though afterwards most people seem to think it was the right thing to do to aid people suffering with incurable conditions and wondered why it didn’t happen sooner, should be a warning to legislators.

Let’s not make the same mistake with one of the biggest health challenges of our time. It is time for action – bold steps that would have the biggest single impact on improving the overall health of Tasmanians for generations. We have to get over how ‘workable’ a ban might be and get it done. Now is the time to start saving lives.

- Paul Lupo
CEO St.LukesHealth