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Tobacco taxation in Australia

Speeches in Parliament
Richard Di Natale 18 Apr 2016

I was able to hear the first part of Senator Leyonhjelm's speech, which was more of a pitch for tobacco donations to help fund his re-election campaign than it was based on evidence or fact. Senator Leyonhjelm is, clearly, somebody who benefits substantially from those huge donations from the tobacco industry. Given that this is his last opportunity to talk to the likes of Philip Morris and British American Tobacco about what a wonderful senator he has been, representing the interests of the tobacco industry, he felt it was important to take the opportunity in this final week to remind them that it is worth them tipping into his campaign.

He talked about tobacco taxation as theft and called it a tax on people having a good time. Having worked as a GP and having seen somebody gasping for breath because they have end-stage emphysema or lung cancer, they would not call what they were experiencing as 'having a good time'. The young kid who has lost their mum or dad prematurely, as a result of a tobacco related death, would not say that they were having a good time. He also described tobacco taxation as theft. He completely ignored the theft from the disreputable and amoral tobacco industry that has a long track record of having lied before Senate committees, of shredding evidence and documents, and doing everything they can to prolong a business model they know has only a matter of time before it is broken.
Despite the fact that across most developed countries we are seeing significant declines in smoking rates, the tobacco industry is aggressively targeting those low-income countries that have poorer levels of governance and that are more open to corrupt activities. It is the tobacco industry that is responsible for fuelling a boom in smoking amongst those developing nations. They are doing it because what they are selling is a nicotine delivery device-to use their own words-to ensure that they get their customers hooked and keep them hooked.

We know that the consequence of that is a product that will kill one in two regular users. Just think about that. It is a legal product that will kill one in two regular users. If that product were seeking to be registered or licensed, today, it would never be able to be sold legally. Yet we have a product that is responsible for about 20 per cent of all cancer deaths. It is responsible for about 15,000 preventable deaths in Australia each year. In the time I have given to making this speech, somewhere around 100 people will have died as a result of this product.

We know the huge costs it imposes on people and society. We know it is over $30 billion in social and economic costs. You know all the statistics. You know what a harmful product this is and you know that any reasonable person in the parliament should be doing what they can to try to reduce the number of people who smoke. In Australia we are fortunate, because we have made significant progress by adopting good public health measures. We know that advertising is a factor in driving consumption, so restricting promotion in advertising of cigarettes has been very successful. We saw bans on the advertising of tobacco products through organised sport. We know that you cannot have at all broadcast advertisements on TV for tobacco products. So advertising is a significant means of restricting use.

We know that Australia was one of the first countries in the world to introduce plain packaging, and congratulations to the previous Labor government for taking that sensible public health measure. We know the restrictions on the point of sale of those products, where access is another factor that drives consumption. But one of the most effective levers is price. That is why increasing tobacco excise is important as a stand-alone public health measure. We know it is regressive. It can be addressed through the tax and transfer system. We wholeheartedly support the measure. (Time expired)

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