New research has prompted experts to call on all Australian Governments to adopt a higher standard of tobacco licensing regulation, including higher fees, to help drive down smoking rates.
Tobacco licensing was changed significantly in South Australia in January 2007, when the annual cost of retail tobacco licences rose 15-fold from $12.90 to $200. A new study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, builds on prior research that showed that the initial fee increase led to an almost 24 percent decrease in the number of tobacco retailers within two years.
Across Australia, there is a mishmash of licensing laws applied to retailers in order for them to legally be allowed to sell tobacco. This variation extends to the license fee or price set, some jurisdictions not requiring a license, with others running a notification rather than a license scheme.
Co-author Professor Caroline Miller, Director of Health Policy at the South Australia Medical Health Research Institute (SAHMRI), says that the latest analysis of what happened in SA between 2009 and 2020 shows large fee increases are needed to prompt retailers to re-evaluate the sale of tobacco.
“Since 2007, the fee in SA has only gradually been increased in line with indexation,” Prof Miller says.
“In the latest analysis, we found that the number of licenses has continued to fall from 2,707 in 2009 to 1,810 in 2020, a 33 percent decline over 11 years. However, this is only an incremental change.
“We also found that the remaining tobacco licences are even more concentrated in lower socio-economic areas. We need another fee increase here in SA to continue to reduce tobacco availability and support our community to quit, especially our most vulnerable.”
The new research particularly caught the attention of public health experts in NSW, one of the few jurisdictions which uses a notification rather than a licensing scheme, with no fee applied to tobacco retailers.
Anita Dessaix, Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) NSW spokesperson and Director, Cancer Prevention and Advocacy at Cancer Council NSW, says it’s extremely disappointing and concerning that NSW lags behind most other states.
“Tobacco is still the leading preventable cause of death and disability in NSW, and the social costs of smoking have been estimated at about $8.4billion,” Ms Dessaix says.
“In NSW around 6,700 deaths and more than 62,900 hospitalisations were attributed to smoking. NSW retailers who sell these deadly products get off scot-free, without paying a fee, while people who smoke pay the ultimate price with their health or life.”
Adjunct Prof Terry Slevin, PHAA’s CEO, says that it’s ridiculous and bizarre that a product that has proven to be deadly is still so widely available in an enormous number of retail outlets.
“Tobacco is still the leading preventable cause of death and disability in Australia, yet continues to be sold in most supermarkets, corner stores, petrol stations, pubs and many other venues,” he says.
“No state or territory has any restriction on the number of outlets that can sell tobacco.
“This study reinforces the importance of introducing a higher standard of tobacco licensing across Australia, including high fees, to help reduce tobacco availability and support smokers who want to quit.
“Improved licensing and higher fees would also prompt retailers to re-evaluate the economic value of being in the unethical business of selling tobacco.”
The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health is a publication of the Public Health Association of Australia. The PHAA communications team prompted this research on social media and through media outlets including 2SM and 2GB radio Sydney, and ABC Hobart and Northern Tasmania.
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