‘It’s time’: Haines calls for MPs to cross party lines for legacy on tobacco, gambling and alcohol

Indi MP Helen Haines has called on other public health professionals and the Parliament to leave behind a legacy.

Indi MP Helen Haines has called on other public health professionals and the Parliament to leave behind a legacy. Photo: AAP/TND

Parliament must ignore party lines and follow the community’s urging and the example of history to stamp out deceptive or alluring advertising of tobacco and other products aimed at children, independent MPs say.

Health warnings would be issued on each cigarette, not just the packet, and graphic images on their front covers would be updated to respond to people who had become inured to their messages under changes released on Wednesday.

Other MPs agreed and said the government needed to further stamp out the insidious advertisement of products that introduced children to harmful behaviour and marketed it as glamorous.

Tobacco, gambling and alcohol

Independent MP for Indi Helen Haines, a nurse and medical scientist, said MPs should move past party lines and keep pace with community expectations to limit the advertising of harmful products to children, like tobacco, gambling and alcohol.

“These products are advertised particularly to children [and are] becoming more insidious, more targeted, more advanced, much more prevalent than policy makers can keep up with,” Dr Haines said on Wednesday.

This year was also, she noted, the 50th anniversary of the Whitlam government’s move to phase out tobacco advertising.

Independent Member for Indi Helen Haines says Parliament must act now to protect children from ‘insidious’ advertising. Photo: AAP

Health Minister Mark Butler announced on Tuesday the release of new draft legislation for tobacco control.

“The vogue-style, fashionable, thin cigarettes – they will go; the menthol bombs and other flavours designed to make cigarettes more tasty – they will go,” Mr Butler said.

The National Tobacco Strategy commits to reducing daily smoking prevalence to below 10 per cent by 2025 and 5 per cent or less by 2030.

Fewer smokers

About 12 per cent of adults smoke, down from about 25 per cent more than a decade ago, when landmark “plain packaging” tobacco regulation was introduced.

Regulation of tobacco was not, Dr Haines said, a debate that needed to divide along party lines when the community called for broader regulation of advertising that conditioned children to harmful behaviour and products.

“We’re now at a moment where we’re faced with mounting evidence about the harms caused by other harmful products,” Dr Haines said.

“These products have become synonymous with sporting competitions, clubs, and activities not by accident.

“None of this is by accident.

“Children between the ages of four to six believe that our product is better for you if it has a cartoon on its packaging.

“Let’s make it a legacy of this Parliament that we work together, that we don’t take partisan lines on this, that we listen to the people we represent,” she said.

“Policy makers have known for decades that slick marketing and advertising campaigns increase the likelihood that we will consume products that are harmful to our health.”

Other health professionals, including independent MP Sophie Scamps and Labor MP Gordon Reid, joined the call from Dr Haines.

‘The community or big corporations?’

“There is a test for this Parliament: Are we standing with the community, or does this parliament continue to stand with the big corporations and the dangerous products they peddle?” asked Andrew Wilkie, an independent from Tasmania.

Other crossbench MPs have joined a call to ban gambling advertising from television, a move with strong public support – but neither major party has endorsed or enacted it.

Mr Butler said he intended to introduce the legislation to Parliament later this year because a previous strategy, passed by former health minister Nicola Roxon a decade ago, was set to expire.

There had been “no significant action” on tobacco control or public health measures related to smoking in the ensuing decade, Mr Butler said.

World-leading legislation

Ms Roxon’s move to make Australia the world’s first nation to bring in so-called plain packaging has since been followed by more than 20 other nations.

Together with a tax hike, the reforms are credited with dropping the number of Australians who smoke by more than 100,000 people.

Mr Butler has put vaping, or e-cigarettes, in the frame of his tobacco control initiatives.

He has described the tobacco industry’s claims that the products do not target children as nonsense.

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