A smoke free society: Government urged to end tobacco sales

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

15/11/2021 3:37:53 PM

Reducing supply is the ‘next natural step’, say researchers who argue it is time for authorities to focus on retailers, not consumers.

A packet of cigarettes.
By reducing smoking prevalence, advocates say the move will compensate for lost tax revenue by decreasing health care expenditure.

In Australia, it is estimated that 11.6% of adults smoked daily in 2019, down from 25% in 1991.
That downward trend is in part thanks to significant government measures to reduce tobacco consumption, from plain packaging to prohibiting advertising and providing support around smoking cessation.
More recently, access to e-cigarettes containing nicotine has also been restricted to prescription-only.
But this latest change has turned the focus back to cigarettes and their widespread availability, leading researchers from the University of Queensland to issue a call to governments to think seriously about phasing out the sale of tobacco.
In a perspective article, published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), Associate Professor Coral Gartner says that up until now, efforts to reduce smoking have largely been focused on consumers.
‘We are now calling on governments to focus on retail supply, which is the critical link between manufacturers and consumers,’ she said.
‘This is the next natural step towards controlling the tobacco use, as seen by a growing number of tobacco control advocacy organisations.’
The step being proposed has already been taken by some governments internationally, such as the Philippines, where the Balanga City Council passed an ordinance to end tobacco sales in 2016. Similarly in United States, Beverley Hills and Manhattan Beach City councils ended tobacco sales as of 1 January 2021.
The Netherlands also has similar plans, starting with supermarkets ending sales of tobacco products from 2024, and New Zealand has recently proposed new measures to reduce the number of tobacco retailers.
But, in Australia, Associate Professor Gartner and her colleagues say that government action on the issue ‘continues to lag’.
This is despite recent research, published in the MJA, showing that 52.8% of respondents to a Victorian Cancer Council survey agreed with phasing out the sale of cigarettes in retail outlets. While more popular among non-smokers, 31.7% of respondents who are current smokers also agreed.
Additionally, 64.2% of respondents thought it would be fair to implement the phase‐out within the next 10 years.
While smoking rates have reduced dramatically over the past 30 years, data shows that current smokers aged 18 and over still smoke an average of 12.9 cigarettes per day. And even though the numbers have declined from 15.9 cigarettes in 2001, the figures still paint a concerning picture, given tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and disability in Australia.
In the perspective piece, Associate Professor Gartner and her colleagues outline five key reasons that governments should set a target end date for tobacco sales:

  • Despite tobacco’s legal status, it fails to meet consumer safety standards
  • The majority of people who smoke would like to quit
  • It will end conflict between government public health goals to reduce tobacco sales and the fiduciary obligations of commercial retailing businesses, which aim to maximise profits through product sales
  • To provide certainty for retailers and facilitate planning for business model adaptation
  • It will enable governments to plan how they will reduce their reliance on tobacco excise tax as a general revenue source
Despite the tobacco tax generating an estimated $15 billion in government revenue last financial year, Associate Professor Gartner and colleagues argue that phasing out tobacco retailing is likely to produce a favourable benefit to cost ratio.
‘Reducing smoking prevalence will compensate for lost tax revenue by decreasing healthcare expenditure on smoking‐related illnesses, economic costs of lost worker productivity, and social costs of human lives lost through smoking,’ they wrote.
‘Furthermore, consumer spending will be redirected to alternative non‐tobacco purchases, generating other tax revenue.’
But even though Australia can draw from experiences abroad, the authors also suggest further research be undertaken locally with policymakers, retailers and consumers to determine an achievable timeframe, particularly within population groups that have higher-than-average smoking prevalence.
One suggestion, as seen in the Netherlands, is to commence the phase-out with large general retailers, such as supermarkets due to their greater financial adaptability. The authors also highlight the need for the strategy to feature ‘exit packages’, similar to those offered to tobacco growers when the Government ended tobacco growing in Australia in 1990s.
‘Demand reduction measures have dominated the tobacco control policy; although important, we suggest that the time to focus on supply reduction and to plan an end date for tobacco retailing is long overdue,’ the authors wrote.
‘Neither industry self‐regulation nor other voluntary approaches will substantially or expeditiously reduce tobacco retailing in support of the Government’s goal of reducing smoking to below 5% by 2030.’
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A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   16/11/2021 5:15:04 PM

Please don't ban it .
That would be culturally insensitive & I do not wish to see more chop- chop on the streets.
Covid has taught us that our health messages do not reach a massive proportion of the population - at least 20%.
Until we contact all of our population, we exert cultural imperialism on those who do not appreciate the dangers of tobacco.