Smokers could be made to buy cigarettes with a prescription or at a pharmacy, in an ambitious new plan to wipe out smoking in Australia almost entirely.
Durry-addicts are a dying breed in more ways that one these days as only about 15 per cent of Australians — 2.3 million of us — committing to the habit which causes one in seven of the nation’s deaths.
The Australian government has a goal of reducing smoking prevalence to 10 per cent by 2025, but a new centre at the University of Queensland wants to go further.
It wants to see Australia wean itself off tobacco for good — in what it calls an “Endgame” — and it has now set out a road map over the next five years to achieve it.
The Centre for Research Excellence (CREATE) says one of the key issues it will look at is cigarette supply.
Its Director, Associate Professor Coral Gartner said proposed cigarette reduction supply strategies ranged from reducing the number of tobacco retailers to restricting sales to particular suppliers, such as pharmacies.
Other proposals include ending cigarette sales to everyone born after a certain year and phasing out commercial cigarette sales. That may mean allowing access to ciggies through a doctor’s prescription only.
Other ideas include regulating the content and emissions of tobacco products to make them non-addictive, less palatable, or to remove the most harmful products from the market entirely.
Dr Gartner said the centre would look at all the options on the table and work out what an appropriate endgame target and time frame should be.
“An effective tobacco endgame strategy should accelerate the decline in smoking prevalence while assisting governments, retailers and people who smoke to transition to a smoke-free society,” she said.
“Australia’s smoking prevalence is just under 15 per cent, but we will need a well-designed endgame strategy if we are to achieve close to zero smoking.”
She said that the ambitious suggestions may have “unintended impacts” on Australia’s shops and illicit tobacco trade.
“However, evidence suggests the potential adverse impacts of other tobacco control strategies have been exaggerated, such as speculation about increased black-market sales in response to plain packaging,” she wrote in an article for InSight.
“Similarly, evidence suggests many of the anticipated adverse impacts from endgame strategies are overstated, such as reductions in footfall and retail traffic if general retailers can no longer sell tobacco.
“Furthermore, an increase in illicit trade may be tolerable if the overall net smoking prevalence is much lower, even with an illicit market.”
While smoking prevalence is declining in Australia, progress is slow, with an average fall of only 0.4 per cent per year since 2010.
CREATE, which involves researchers throughout Australia, New Zealand and Canada, aims to speed that decline up.
Dr Gartner said Australia has already led the world in its anti-smoking measures.
“Australia was the first country to mandate plain packaging for tobacco products, now in place or being implemented in 17 other countries,” she said. “Similarly, Australia and New Zealand are at the forefront of tobacco tax policy, with cigarette prices among the world’s highest due to a series of substantial tobacco tax increases in both countries.
“While Australia has done well, additional approaches and innovations are needed if we are to achieve an equitable tobacco endgame.”
CREATE is funded by $2.5 million from the National Health and Medical Research Centre and $500,000 from UQ.