3 year priority: More people smoke-free and quitting
In recent years, significant steps forward have been made in tobacco control, with smoking prevalence in the general population reduced to 13 per cent of adults smoking regularly (down from over 32 per cent 30 years ago), and youth smoking rates declining to the lowest ever recorded.
Despite this success in decreasing population smoking rates, the progress in reducing smoking prevalence among disadvantaged populations (including those with low incomes, low levels of education, and people experiencing severe and persistent mental illness) has been much slower.
Smoking is a leading preventable health risk factor in Australia. It costs the Victorian community $554 million annually in health care costs alone, and evidence suggests that two out of three long-term smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.
VicHealth has been committed to reducing harms from tobacco since it was established in 1987, primarily through funding Quit Victoria (led by Cancer Council Victoria (CCV)). This investment in tobacco control has enabled Quit Victoria to deliver a comprehensive and integrated approach aimed at reducing the harms from tobacco. Since 2002, VicHealth has invested over $50 million in Quit Victoria.
Despite substantial decline in smoking rates, smoking remains all too common in some settings and groups. Quit Victoria launched a new campaign in April targeted at young men, which urges smokers to ditch cigarettes now rather than put off quitting until they are older and starting to feel the damage to their health. The campaign came as Cancer Council Victoria released data showing that more men in Victoria were daily smokers (13.9%) than women (10.1%).
Reviewing evidence on effective NRT use
VicHealth has put its support behind Alfred Health’s mission to gather the best evidence available on how to stay smoke-free successfully. VicHealth funded Alfred Health for a scoping project to review existing evidence, policy, guidelines and clinical practices around the effective use of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).
Researchers reviewed the literature, consulted with national and international experts and took input from consumers. They discovered that a key barrier for people trying to quit smoking is a lack of consistent and up-to-date information on the most effective ways to use NRTs.
Alfred Health is now holding forums around the state to share their research with local health services and provide coaching and mentoring support on best practice to help smokers to quit.
Tobacco packaging and labeling - Industry intimidation tactics through litigation
Tobacco packaging and labelling has been the centre of international legal battles between governments, health authorities and tobacco giants for a decade.
In 2010, Uruguay was the first country to be taken to an international court by the tobacco industry. Philip Morris, with gross revenues of US$64 billion in 2010, sued Uruguay, a country of just 3.4 million people and a GDP of US$32 billion in 2010. Six years later Uruguay won its case against Philip Morris to introduce its own tough labelling measures that require graphic health warnings to cover 80 per cent of cigarette packets.
Since 2012, Australia has been having its own lengthy legal battles with the tobacco industry over plain packaging, including two high court challenges, an investor-State dispute and five World Trade Organization challenges. Four of the WTO challenges remain but it is expected that a decision will be handed down shortly.
Throughout the years of legal battles Australia has maintained its resolve to defend its landmark plain-packaging legislation that has become a template for other nations intent on reducing tobacco consumption. Australia’s leadership has triggered a domino effect with France, UK, Ireland, Norway, New Zealand and Hungary committing to introduce plain packaging, and there are many more countries considering it.
Australia’s world-renowned tobacco control researchers and the strong advocacy by Quit Victoria – which is funded by VicHealth – played a vital role in securing the introduction of plain packaging in Australia, which later became legislation.
Congratulating Uruguay on their win, VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said, “This ruling should serve as inspiration to other countries across the world, in particular the Western Pacific region, to consider large or full-size graphic health warnings as well as plain packaging.”