Updated: Dec 3, 2019
Greg Hunt, the current Health Minister of Australia has announced a new target of reducing smoking rates down to 10% by the year of 2025. The health plan prioritises the correct goals including: mental illness, preventative health and medical research and it aims to chart the way forward in Australia through the next 3 to 10 years. Unfortunately, there are a few issues with our National Tobacco Strategy. When the Minister announced the target of reducing smoking down to 10%, he failed to make any comment that the target was previously set in 2012. Furthermore it was supposed to be achieved by 2018. This target was obviously not met previously and has not been given any explanation why, by the Health Minister. The National Health Plan now plans to achieve the exact same goal by extending the previous one by 7 years. Making this target 13 years in total; with no comment on why the previous target failed in any capacity. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and illness in Australia, accounting for 19,000 deaths per year. Unfortunately, smoking rates have not declined significantly since 2013. While other countries such as the UK are succeeding in executing the same task.
What is even more exceptional is that Australia has the highest cigarette prices in the world. Alongside plain packaging and strict tobacco control laws. It's very clear that we need to implement more effective strategies to get smoking rates to decline at rates seen by other countries. Did Mr. Hunt introduce any new or more effective strategies? No. $5 million per year for media campaigns, which is approximately 0.003% of the annual tobacco excise of $17 billion a year. It's clearly inadequate. What is deeply disappointing is that media campaigns have been proven to be historically ineffective even if smokers are motivated to quit. Quitting without support or medication has a success rate of about 4% and Australia has very few smoking clinics or health professionals who are well trained in helping smokers quit their addictions. The worst part
Vaping was not even considered in Australia's National Health Plan. Recent research by The New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that it is the most effective quitting tool. It is also the most popular quitting aid in countries where it is widely available. Twice as effective as nicotine patches and gums combined. A secretive 2 year inquiry was launched by the Minister to research vaping instead. Which theoretically will reveal what we have already researched and proven to be safe and effective. In that time 38,000 people will die from smoking, just to find out what we already know. The intentions are correct but the timeframe is not. A complete analysis of the current literature on vaping has taken place in the past and has been the political basis of many countries changing their stance to encourage vaping as a smoking cessation tool. Based on last years timeline, I do not have a lot of faith this inquiry will be finished and ready in 2 years. This inquiry has not been referenced or spoken about. It is inherently secretive in nature and therefore its values and goals can be reasonably questioned. The Australian Medical Association remains opposed as Tony Bartone, President of AMA stated this week that "There is no current evidence that vaping works as a cessation aid". Dr Bartone has been invited by health groups and associations to discuss vaping and the growing evidence that is in favour of vaping, but he has repeatedly declined. Unfortunately this statement is repeatedly used to dismiss vaping, which is now the most popular and most effective quitting aid globally.
The Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, or ATHRA for short has labelled the National Health Plan as "all rhetoric and no substance." The Australian National Health Plan has shown that our government is currently opposed to utilising vaping as a way to drive down smoking rates. Despite the facts and evidence that are readily available. Vaping has been proven to be the most effective and popular quitting tool in countries that have listened and responded to the countless medical literature/evidence in favour of vaping.
While other countries such as the UK, are implementing strategies that are saving lives, people are dying here in Australia. 19,000 people a year is an expensive toll, when we have all the equipment at our disposal to do something about it. With correct education, regulation and government policies - it is possible to save the lives of so many people. How long will it take Australia?