The Federal Government has embellished Australia’s standing as an international leader in the fight to combat smoking and control tobacco, earning it the National Tobacco Scoreboard Achievement Award for 2015.
Presenting the National Tobacco Scoreboard Award to Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley in a ceremony at Australian Medical Association’s National Conference in Brisbane today, AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler commended the Government for building on the work of its predecessors in keeping Australia at the forefront of international efforts to control tobacco and reduce smoking, which nonetheless remains the nation’s number one cause of preventable deaths.
“Australia has a strong record when it comes to tobacco control,” A/Prof Owler says.
“From Quit campaigns and smoke-free workplaces and public spaces to excise arrangements and, most recently, breakthrough plain packaging legislation, this country has been a leader in the fight to curb smoking.
“And the evidence shows that we are succeeding. Less than 13 per cent of Australians aged 14 years or older smoked on a daily basis in 2013 – down from more than a third in 1980 – and it is likely to be even lower now.
“Unfortunately, tobacco is still a major killer. Each year, around 15,000 Australians die because of smoking, and around two-thirds of current smokers will die because of their habit.
“It means we can’t afford to slacken off. Governments, doctors and health groups need to do all we can to help people quit smoking, or never take it up in the first place.”
A/Professor Owler says that is why it is particularly pleasing to see the Commonwealth take out the National Tobacco Scoreboard Achievement Award, because it shows the Federal Government’s commitment to push ahead on tobacco control.
In announcing their decision, ACOSH judges particularly commended the Government for its National Tobacco Campaign – the next phase of which will be launched on World No Tobacco Day this Sunday – and its unswerving support for the nation’s world-first plain packaging laws.
A/Professor Owler says both Ms Ley and Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash are to be congratulated for their ongoing support for tobacco control.
“While plain packaging laws, tobacco excise, smoke-free workplaces and Quit campaigns are all great measures, evidence shows programs like the National Tobacco Campaign are particularly effective, and will build on the successes of recent decades in reducing smoking,” the AMA President says.
“But this is not to let other governments off the hook.
“Across the country there has been a creeping complacency when it comes to tobacco control, and many governments seem to be sitting on their hands, which is very disappointing when we are talking about the nation’s biggest preventable cause of death and disease.”
The AMA President says there are glaring gaps in the national effort to cut the rate of smoking, particularly among disadvantaged groups.
“There has been little focus on disadvantaged communities, where preventable deaths and disease from smoking are particularly prevalent. Smoking is a major reason why people with mental problems have a much reduced life expectancy, and is a leading killer among Indigenous Australians and those in prison,” he says.
Queensland and Western Australia were praised by the ACOSH judges for taking action on e-cigarettes, though both were urged to go further and ban their sale and promotion altogether. Both Victoria and the ACT were given credit for decisions to divest themselves of tobacco company shares but, as with most other jurisdictions, were marked down for allowing smoking in parts of casinos and other licensed premises.
New South Wales, Tasmania and the Northern Territory were commended for resolving to make their prisons smoke-free.
A/Prof Owler warned that all governments would need to step up their commitment to tobacco control if they were to achieve the goals set out in the National Tobacco Strategy, which aims to drive the prevalence of smoking among adults down to 10 per cent by 2018.
“I urge all governments to ensure adequate investment in strong, comprehensive mass media-led campaigns to cut Australia’s smoking habit,” the AMA President says.
A/Prof Owler said he hoped that the strong message sent out to governments through with the Dirty Ashtray Award and the National Tobacco Scoreboard would intensify efforts to encourage more people to quit the killer habit and stamp out smoking.