A Speech by ACT Democrats President, Darren Churchill, to Canberra ASH (Action on Smoking & Health), 02 October, 2008

A Speech by ACT Democrats President, Darren Churchill, to Canberra ASH (Action on Smoking & Health), 02 October, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll declare something here. I am an ex-smoker. So, we’ll see if that colours anything I have to say.

Firstly, I’d like to say to say the Australian Democrats are not in any way a socially conservative party. We’re social liberals, and we believe in the right of people to enjoy their lifestyle, in, the way they choose. The exception to that is where that lifestyle impinges on what we could perceive as the greater public good. A health issue like this, this is one of those issues when there is a role for the state to regulate when and where people can enjoy their right to smoke, so others can enjoy their right to clean air.

The Democrats have a long tradition of being innovators in tobacco law reform. In various jurisdictions we have worked cooperatively with governments, often pushing them a little further than they would like to go on tobacco law reform, and other public health measures. It was pointed out earlier that we supported the ban on indoor smoking.

When smoking was regulated in indoor areas, the doomsayers cried “it will ruin the hospitality industry!” That hasn’t been the case.
What’s been the case is that people largely support the ban on indoor smoking. Including, many smokers,

Canberra has a wonderful café culture with a large number of pavement dining areas. So, now we believe that it’s a natural progression to expand the protection of non-smokers and hospitality workers to those outdoor eating areas.

We shouldn’t allow some manipulation by the tobacco industry (political donations and the like) to clog our thinking about the need to legislate for decent, sensible public health policy. Current smoking laws have been well received. And it is time to take them further. It’s time to take action to protect families and give workers a safer workplace. Outdoor areas must come next.

We’d like to see an environment whereby hospitality workers can carry out their work in an environment that isn’t contaminated by people polluting the air with smoke and contaminating it with toxins. So the ACT Democrats support the creation of “clean air zones.’

The position of the Australian Democrats in relation to tobacco advertising even predates our existence as a party. In the early 1970s, the person who was to become our first federal parliamentary leader, Don Chipp, was a strong advocate of banning television and radio advertising of cigarettes and tobacco products. Such was the influence of the tobacco industry that the Chief Executive of one of the tobacco companies wrote to the then Prime Minister, Mr McMahon, saying that they would withdraw funding to the Liberal Party if Don Chipp didn’t stop his advoocacy of bannning tobacco advertising on television and radio. Of course, Chippy kept up his fight and as you probably know in the mid 1970s, the last Liberal government of which Don Chipp was a part took action to ban tobacco advertising on radio and television.

The Australian Democrats have continued this work, supporting the banning of tobacco sponsorship of sport by the Hawke government in the 80s and 90s. And also here in the ACT supporting the banning of smoking in indoor areas.

Whilst, I don’t advocate giving smoking a mischievous quality by making it be perceived as a banned or naughty product (nothing sells better than a banned product, I mean we can cite the example of records that have been banned by radio stations, they go to number one on the playlists, on the hit parade). So, I don’t advocate the total removal of tobacco products from display. I do support the discrete display of tobacco products with little or no advertising, away from the easy view of children.

It is very hard to enforce a ban on smoking in cars. Public education is also a fantastic thing, which I think should be encouraged.

Federally, three years ago, my party did attempt to ban smoking in cars in the belief that it would cut down on bushfires, littering, car accidents and cancer. And I agree, it would cut down on those things. I do think the idea has merit. However, I believe it is an incredibly difficult thing to enforce and that education rather than legislation is probably the way to go. We’ve already seen example in society where sensitive, aware parents don’t smoke in the house around their kids. Sensitive, aware parents don’t smoke in the car with their kids; and I think education to extend and encourage that is what we should be supporting. It should be the role of government as part of health promotion to provide such education.

However, public transport and planes have been smoke free for many years, so there possibly is a case for enforcing smoke free driving.

I think there should be Assembly inquiries into all things to determine best practice within Australia and overseas. Having said that, I think all legislation should be thoroughly examined and we should make better use of the Committee system in the assembly to determine good legislation, good outcomes on all legislation and that’s been common Democrat practice for a long time. And we support that.

Smokers do have a right to smoke. The majority of citizens also have a right to breathe clean air and to enjoy clean air. Medical evidence has shown that there are many bad effects from side-stream and environmental tobacco smoke on the health of non-smokers. And we as legislators must take action So to examine what is world’s best practice and Australian best practice before legislating in the ACT, I think that’s a good idea.

I don’t believe you can legislate respect. I think it’s like trying to legislate manners. It’s just impossible. They only thing you can do is try to teach respect. And respect is part of that old two-sided equation, rights and responsibilities. Yes, you have the right to smoke but you also have the responsibility to ensure that others are not affected by your smoking and that you respect the zone in which you are permitted to smoke. So, if it’s a “clean air zone” then you don’t light up in that zone. It’s a respect issue. We can’t legislate and enforce that sort of thing. I think that education campaigns are the right sort of way to go on this.

The ACT Democrats believe more should be put into education and awareness campaigns. We support increased funding for tobacco education in schools and the community with a focus on informed choice. We are talking about a legal product after all. We are committed to promoting additional methods of reducing the harm caused by tobacco and especially the use of it by children. We don’t believe that we can have tighter tobacco control without more generous tobacco cessation programmes. The two things need to go hand in hand. It is time that we took away the excuse for not stopping smoking. Which often are for instance, the gum or the patches are too expensive. And we need to recognise that tobacco is an addictive substance and to treat tobacco addiction as exactly what it is – an addiction. So, as such, we support more resources being given to Quit Smoking campaigns.
I think that a proposal for “no smoking’ clauses in residential tenancy agreements requires a thorough examination of the proposed legislation in relation to it. I have lived in student accommodation where smoking was banned in the enclosed area of the premises. However, it was permitted on the balcony area. So, there’s room for consideration of that. However, I don’t think it’s a simplistic solution and it’s something that needs to be examined thoroughly.

It is also important that we focus on the health and well-being of expectant mothers and babies. I think this can really be done as part of an overall awareness campaign. I think some of the messages are already getting through, particularly through the medical profession in relation to both alcohol and smoking during pregnancy. People are far more aware of the impact on the unborn child these days than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago. I mean, we’re aware now of the drug Thalidomide, we’re awre of the affect of alcohol on the unborn child, we’re aware of the affect of smoking. I think as the medical profession get this message through to people (and part of their role is to educate on current medical practice) that the message is getting through. And giving children a good start in life is one of the most important investments that a society can make in it’s future. But the only real protection that can be given to the unborn child is common sense on the part of the mother. And that can only come about through education.

Subliminal advertising in movies is a problem. The subliminal messages in movies are very strong. It does glamourise smoking and I think action needs to be take. But this is something that needs to be done, probably more at a federal level than what we can do at a territory level. We can’t say that a certain type of film has to have one requirement in the ACT but something else in the rest of Australia. It’s really a federal issue but we should lobby and put pressure on the federal government to pick up on that, as it has been when the Democrats Senators attempted to introduce this into the Senate back in 2004. I think it’s a good idea to pick up on it again. And, I think that maybe it’s time will come too.

Thank you.

(This shows Darren’s responses to Canberra ASH as a speech. To view it as a question and Answer format see http://www.act.democrats.org.au and click on “Speeches”)

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