WORLD No Tobacco Day is a date acknowledged by the World Health Organisation, as a reminder of how much tobacco still harms the worldwide community.
Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year, of whom more than 600,000 are non-smokers dying from breathing in second-hand smoke.
Australia has instituted significant public-health changes to protect the community from both direct and second-hand smoke. Unfortunately one in two smokers will die from their habit and a third of them will be middle-aged.
The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day campaign is ‘‘Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship’’.
The focus on the promotion and advertising theme is significant if we are going to help prevent future generations taking up smoking.
Both federal and state government bodies have made significant legislative changes.
These have been driven not only by public opinion but also from strong evidenced-based research that shows the benefit in establishing legislation that will protect our community from the ill-effects of tobacco.
In recent times we have seen the federal government introduce plain tobacco packaging and legislation to protect the community from second-hand smoke through smoking bans in public places.
Almost three years has passed since retailers were required to place tobacco products behind closed doors, which came about through legislation under the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008.
This legislation grew from research that indicated children were still taking up tobacco smoking. Twentyper cent of 12- to 17-year-old students in NSW indicated they had smoked tobacco in the past 12 months, and more than 10per cent considered themselves smokers.
We know that the younger a person decides to take up smoking, the more difficult it becomes for them to quit later in life.
Research shows that childhood and adolescence are periods when significant changes to brain structure occur. As a result, young smokers can rapidly become addicted to nicotine, even at low smoking levels.
So, removing the temptation by banning promotion and advertising of tobacco is key to helping reduce smoking rates.
Tobacco is available in petrol stations, supermarkets and convenience stores – as much a consumable product as bread or milk.
Research showed that banning the display of tobacco products could reduce the likelihood of children and young people seeing cigarettes and wanting to experiment with them.
The ban anticipated the change in young people’s perceptions about the ease of access to cigarettes and social acceptability of smoking.
Most importantly, banning tobacco product display would denormalise smoking in the community.
The legislation that bans the display of tobacco products contained an important caveat for specialist tobacconists. This enabled them to apply for a three-year exemption period, which will end on July1, 2013.
This final chapter to cigarette displays will help change attitudes and social norms around smoking and play a key role in preventing future generations from taking up the habit.
Smoking kills about 15,000 people in Australia each year, making it one of the biggest preventable causes of premature death.
In order to protect future generations, it is vital that everything is done to put tobacco out of sight and out of mind.
The current (2011) smoking rate in the Hunter New England Local Health District sits at 17.8per cent – much higher than the overall NSW rate of 14.7per cent.
This rate is applied to the general community, but Cancer Council NSW has identified that it could be higher, particularly among socially disadvantaged communities. So an important aim of the ban on tobacco retail display would be to help these communities.
Banning product displays as a uniform restriction across all tobacco retail outlets will be a reality as of July1.
This legislation is one of many important steps in tobacco control in Australia.
It sends an important message worldwide on World No Tobacco Day that Australia is working towards reducing the significant harm that tobacco does to the community’s health.
People wanting to quit smoking should call the Quitline: 137848.
Kath Duggan is the community programs co-ordinator for the Upper Hunter office of Cancer Council NSW.