Butting out big tobacco's "statistics" - June 2014

Read the speech Chris gave to the SA Parliament on the importance of strong anti-smoking measures and the reliability of statistics and research from the tobacco industry. 

Below is a speech Chris gave to the SA Parliament on 17 June 2014 on the importance of strong anti-smoking measures and the reliability of statistics and research from the tobacco industry. 

plainpack

On 31 May, the world marked the 28th World No Tobacco Day. Over 5 million people each year around the world die from the negative health effects of tobacco, with over 15,000 of those deaths in Australia. Tobacco is the only legal product available that, when used as properly intended, is fatal. Therefore, tobacco must be treated as a product unlike any other. Likewise, the tobacco industry is an industry unlike any other. While the industry talks about corporate responsibility, any sales success that they have results in more deaths, and any failures for them to sell their products actually saves lives.

Over the past four decades, Australia's and South Australia's approach to tobacco regulation has transformed and is continuing to transform. In the latest step towards saving lives from cancer, I congratulate the Minister for Health in this government for his recent announcement to make outdoor dining areas smoke-free by July 2016. He has also announced he will reintroduce funding for anti-tobacco advertising campaigns. These changes will save lives in South Australia.

Likewise, reforms at the national level in recent years have made Australia a world leader in the fight against tobacco and cancer. Increases in tobacco excise have addressed a falling tax-to-price ratio in Australia compared to other advanced economies, and Australia has led the world with the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco. It is a move now being considered in other countries, such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand. This is not a measure that was ever intended to convince large numbers of existing smokers to quit; it is a measure aimed at preventing new smokers starting up this horrible habit by removing the last possible way from tobacco companies to advertise their product and attach glamour to their cigarette brands.

Big tobacco companies fear nothing more than the introduction of this measure. They have spent millions of dollars in Australia trying to stop the reform, and are now spending even more money overseas trying to stop the spread of this policy. In the past fortnight, we have seen the big tobacco companies and their allies pushing stories about plain packaging supposedly increasing smoking rates. These 'industry monitor figures', however, are not backed up by the respected and reliable Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that show that the consumption of tobacco and cigarettes in the March quarter across Australia were the lowest ever recorded in over 50 years of records.

In seasonally adjusted terms, there was a 5.3 per cent drop in tobacco consumption from when plain packaging laws were introduced until now. Economist Stephen Koukoulas has gone as far as to label these ABS figures as 'a great depression for tobacco sales'. The truth is, as dissected by eminent public health expert Professor Mike Daube, 'The tobacco companies want stories in the UK that will say that plain packaging hasn't helped in Australia. That's the main game for them at the moment.'

This is a cautionary tale that, when it comes to tobacco policy, be very wary of industry statistics, industry research and industry spokespeople. This is an industry that has one goal: the continuation of the steady sale of cigarettes across the globe, particularly in developing countries, despite the fact that it causes health disasters for communities across the globe.

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