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Smoke free generation closer than ever before

Smoke free generation closer than ever before

Right now exists a compelling opportunity to change the world for future generations, writes St.LukesHealth CEO Paul Lupo.

The Federal Health Minister’s tough stance on vaping is to be applauded, but it will amount to nothing if the Government doesn’t take holistic action to close the loop on tobacco altogether.

A new study released by the Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer has revealed teen smoking has increased for the first time in 25 years against a backdrop of rising vape use.

The data indicates a three-fold increase in current tobacco smoking by 14-17 year-olds in just four years, from 2.1 per cent in 2018 to 6.7 per cent in 2022. Preliminary data from the first quarter of 2023 reveals 12.8 per cent of 14-17 year-olds reported smoking.

Specific data on vaping revealed a shocking rise among 14-17 year-olds, with fewer than 1 per cent using vapes in 2018, increasing to 11.8 per cent in 2022 and 14.5 per cent in early 2023.

This is a staggering scourge on our society and especially our children.

We know that people who vape are three times more likely to subsequently take up smoking, so with vapes soon to be taken off the market, we are simply setting our kids up to become the next generation of cigarette smokers.  

The percentage of 14-17 year-olds both smoking and vaping has increased from 0.3 per cent to 4.4 per cent in four years. The earlier a person starts experimenting with cigarettes, the more likely they are to become a regular, long-term user.

This is the first time we’ve seen a rise in teen smoking since the early-to-mid 1990s, and let’s not forget, cigarettes kill up to two in three long-term smokers.

In Tasmania, the State Government’s Tobacco Control Plan Progress Report 2021, revealed that in 2017 as high as 4 per cent of young people aged 12 – 15 years smoked and 8 per cent of those aged 16 – 17 years smoked.

We still have the second highest rate of smoking in the country, contributing to an annual smoking-related death rate of 500 people. We also have the highest incidents of airways disease in Australia.

Soon, we will have a generation of young Tasmanians who vape, also poised to transition to cigarettes.

It is nothing more than a strategy by Big Tobacco that allows them to continue making billions of dollars at the expense of our children’s health.

Why on earth would we allow it?

Let’s not forget, tobacco is estimated to claim the lives of around 20,000 Australians every year – more than 50 people every day. This, paired with the recent rise in teen smoking, should be enough to make anyone shudder.

We are at a critical crossroads in our society, and we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect our children from one of the biggest killers of our time. But we must act now before these addictive behaviours become even more entrenched.

Let’s look back in 40 years’ time and say we did the right thing, not lament that we chose to take the easy road and exposed our children to something that need never have been part of their lives.

If the Federal Government is serious about reclaiming its position as a world leader in tobacco control, it must go further than simply introducing measure to reduce smoking rates.

Looking closer to home, why can’t Tasmania lead the nation on taking action to eliminate smoking for the next generation? We know from experience that we are perfectly suited to piloting community change programs – we’ve done so successfully with major national initiatives, such as the introduction of a total indoor smoking ban in 2006, and the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in 2013.

Tasmania cannot afford to wait for the Federal Government to enact change. Action is needed now. Looking at other states and territories who are already leading the charge, we must not be left behind. It will be to the detriment of our young people and generations to come.

Paul Lupo is the CEO of Tasmanian not-for-profit health insurer St.LukesHealth.

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