Public health experts want five commitments from new NSW government

Gambling and vaping are election priorities for public health advocates.

Gambling and vaping are election priorities for public health advocates. Photo: Getty

Public health experts in New South Wales have a strong message for the next state government – sideline industry interests and protect the health of the public.

On Monday, the NSW branch of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) unveiled its Vote for Public Health campaign, before the state election in March.

The campaign highlights five priorities that will relieve pressures on the state’s health care system, and keep people healthy and out of hospital.

The five public health issues outlined in the election platform come with evidence-based solutions, PHAA NSW president Kate McBride said.

The five public health priorities are:

  • Protect young people from the harm of vaping
  • Remove junk food advertising on state-owned assets to promote healthy weight among children
  • Minimise the harms of gambling
  • Act boldly on climate change, by banning new coal and gas mines and ban expansions
  • Make prevention a health system priority.

“The gambling, vaping, and unhealthy food and beverage industries continue to profit from destroying the health and livelihoods of adults and children in NSW, but the incoming government can stop these harms with targeted measures,” Dr McBride said.

In the lead-up to the March 25 election, the NSW PHAA will assess the policies put forward by the major parties and score them against its own, to help people decide who they vote for.

Vaping and young people

Dr McBride said the uptake in 15 to 24-year-olds vaping has more than doubled in the past two years. A survey from last year found one in three teenagers had vaped in the past.

“We need to act now and make it an offence to supply or sell non-nicotine e-cigarette products to protect children and young people from the risk of smoking uptake,” she said.

It’s illegal to sell nicotine e-cigarettes in Australia without a prescription, but it is legal to sell e-cigarettes without nicotine.

However, e-cigarettes, or vapes, incorrectly claiming to not contain nicotine are “hampering” NSW enforcement efforts, PHAA said.

The campaign’s solution is to apply greater pressure on the federal government to “strengthen its enforcement action to intercept illegally imported vaping products”.


Most Australian experts say vaping is a gateway to smoking tobacco. Photo: Getty

Cashless gambling

Dr McBride said NSW is Australia’s gambling capital and it is ruining families’ lives.

“The next government should implement a universal pre-commitment cashless card system with upper limits, a one-button self-exclusion mechanism, and enforce prohibitions on inducements and advertising,” she said.

Issuing a pre-commitment cashless card system – plus regulations and legislations to prohibit advertising and other incentives – could control gambling and money laundering activity, PHAA NSW said.

“To support this policy, we’re calling on all political parties to refuse pre-election agreements with the gaming industry,” the organisation’s Advocacy Platform document says.

Ban junk food adverts

PHAA NSW is advocating for the new government to ban advertisements for unhealthy food and beverages on government owned or controlled assets.

NSW PHAA, along with 13 health organisations and individuals, support Cancer Council NSW in the 2022 joint statement calling on the next NSW government to show leadership by restricting unhealthy food and beverage advertisement on state-controlled assets, starting with public transport,” it said.

NSW PHAA noted that the World Cancer Research Fund and the World Health Organisation recommend reducing children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing.

London, the ACT and Amsterdam had legislative bans on adverting unhealthy foods and drinks on publicly owned assets.

The NSW PHAA wants to ban unhealthy food and drinks being advertised on public assets in the state. Photo: Getty

Act on climate change

NSW PHAA is advocating for the new government to work on reducing climate-related harms regarding public health.

Climate-induced floods and bushfires are posing a serious risk to NSW communities, economy and environment,” NSW PHAA said.

“Unless strident actions are taken now, these problems will deepen existing inequalities and further marginalise people who are most vulnerable.”

Not only do public health experts want new and expansions of coal and gas mines to be banned, they also want a NSW-focused Health and Climate Summit to look at “actions that protect health and safety across workplaces, neighbourhoods and communities”.

Boost to health prevention

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed “undeniable faults in our health system” and the NSW PHAA wants the new government to commit to expanding and diversifying the public health workforce, to promote prevention efforts.

Thirty eight per cent of illness, disease and early deaths can be prevented, along with one in 10 hospital admission days,” the NSW PHAA said.

This unfairly impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people who experience economic and social challenges, women, and children. NSW has a world-class health system, but it is under pressure.”

Dr McBride said more than a third of illness, disease and early deaths in Australia are preventable.

“We need to invest significantly in preventive health interventions to ease the immense pressure on the NSW health system,” she said.

Calling on the next government to expand and diversify the public health workforce, the NSW PHAA is asking that a strategy be developed “to embed prevention across all NSW health sectors”.

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