Cigarette ‘prescription’ floated to curb Australia’s smoking rate

Three Hobart suburbs have the country's highest proportions of cigarette smokers.

Three Hobart suburbs have the country's highest proportions of cigarette smokers. Photo: Getty

Moving cigarette sales to a prescription-only model and ending sales to Australians born after a certain year are two “ambitious” tactics proposed to bring down our smoking rate to a globally enviable level.

The prescription model could mean cigarettes are only available through a doctor’s note, and available from a chemist – but a leading tobacco control scholar says that will never happen.

“Cigarettes will never go on prescription because there is no medical benefit from getting access to tobacco,” Simon Chapman AO, Emeritus Professor in the School Public Health at the University of Sydney, said.

The bold plan comes from a newly created research centre at University of Queensland, which has been tasked with creating a “tobacco endgame” for Australia, where our smoking rates are less than 5 per cent.

Our rate currently sits at just under 15 per cent, or 11 per cent for people who smoke daily.

Professor Chapman has worked in tobacco control in Australia for decades, and recalled when he started in the late 1970s, rates were about 45 per cent for men and 30 per cent for women.

“And in between then and now it’s just gone, gone forever and continue continually going down,” Professor Chapman told The New Daily.

He says the most effective anti-smoking method is one we’ve done before – extremely graphic advertising.

“If you go back seven, 10, 15 years – you turn on your television and chances are you’d see a really high budget,” Professor Chapman said.

“Really, really strong production values anti-smoking advertising. We know that driving down smoking faster than just about anything.”

While those ads have fallen to distant memory, Professor Chapman says that’s what will bring Australians smoking rate closer to that golden “tobacco endgame” target.

Multi-layered defence

Australia has some of the highest-priced tobacco products in the world – a 20-pack of cigarettes carries the average cost of $40. In the US, it’s about $11. After Australia and New Zealand, Ireland has the third most expensive prices at $22.

That’s thanks to steep tax hikes that have been in place since 2010.

We’ve also had plain packaging in place since 2012.

Together with advertising bans and a restrictions on where people can actually smoke, we’ve got a pretty strong line of defence that’s working well to stop children taking up the habit in the first place, Professor Chapman said.

“The biggest driver for the prevalence of smoking going down, is that there are so many kids who’ve never taken it up,” he said.

That’s why maintaining a defence against vaping and e-cigarettes is so important, he said.

The federal government recently legislated to ban the import of nicotine e-cigarettes, which were already banned from sale in the country.

However, they might be able to be obtained via a prescription from doctors as quit-smoking aids.

Professor Chapman said tobacco companies were desperately looking at a way to bring in new customers – and vaping was one of those avenues. A lot of tobacco companies also own vaping products now, he said.

“They’re being starved of new customers, and a lot of their best customers are dying still,” he said.

“It’s common knowledge that they are panicked. And so they’re introducing those products that they’re calling ‘harm reduced’ and trying to make out that they’re almost benign – that they’re kind of almost as good as not smoking at all.

“But, of course, they’re terribly, terribly addictive still. So they’re sort of trying to get kids interested.”

  • Want to quit smoking? Visit Quitline or call 137 848
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