Major parties kick vaping can back to the Feds

4 minute read

At a pre-election debate on public health, the Libs and Labor handballed vaping, preventative health and gambling back to Canberra.

The two major political parties in Australia’s biggest state have refused to commit to lifting spending on preventative health to 5% of the health budget, while deferring reforms on vaping, gambling and junk food advertising.

The Public Health Association of Australia’s pre-election debate this week featured retiring Liberal Health Minister Brad Hazzard, the ALP’s health spokesman Ryan Park, Greens spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann and independent candidate for Lane Cove Victoria Davidson.

While the Greens committed to a six-point plan to regulate vaping, Mr Hazzard and Mr Park preferred to handball the issue back to the federal government.

“I think vaping is abhorrent,” said Mr Hazzard. “Effectively our kids are smoking antifreeze with different flavours, and they’re being sucked into smoking. Vaping is a disaster.

“But there is not a clear answer. There must be more done to stop [nicotine-containing products] coming in, but it’s got to be a national response.”

Mr Park was similarly noncommittal.

“It’s a real challenge,” he said. “We need to have a summit on this issue – bring state and federal bodies to the table to nut out an achievable plan.

“The TGA has been clear that they don’t see [vaping] as a way to get people off tobacco.”

Associate Professor Kate McBride, one of the debate organisers and president of the NSW branch of the PHAA, said she was “disappointed” by the lack of commitment on vaping.

“I don’t think the major political parties have a clear plan about what they want to do about vaping,” she told TMR.

“There was a lot of kicking the can down the road. Of course [they commented] about how awful it was and how they disagree with it. But it’s really disappointing to see that they have no firm plans whatsoever to take action on vaping.

“It’s ridiculous. We saw during covid, [the states] were happy to make different decisions in different jurisdictions. But then all of a sudden, when it comes to things like vaping and preventative health they can’t make these separate decisions by state.

“NSW is in a great position to be able to take leadership in many of these spaces – vaping, spending on health, climate change, gambling, you name it – but they’re choosing to make the excuse that they can’t have different policies based on jurisdiction.”

When pressed to commit to increasing to 5% the percentage of the state health budget spent on preventative public health measures, Mr Hazzard said this was already the case – “NSW Health give me the figures and I believe we already spend 5% on prevention” – despite AIHW data showing that in 2020-21 the percentage of total health spend on prevention was 3.6%, with “no state spending more than 3%”.

Professor McBride said the PHAA was “going to delve into this further”.

“It’s disappointing that there wasn’t this commitment from any of the political parties, even though they understand, particularly since covid, that preventative health is incredibly important,” she said.

“All of them acknowledged that we’re at complete capacity in hospital systems, and that we have to do something to stop that upward trend in the pressure on hospital systems. But no one was prepared to commit to that 5%.”

Both Mr Park and Mr Hazzard refused to commit to removing junk food advertising from state-owned assets such as public transport.

“It would be very straightforward for NSW to take the action on banning unhealthy food advertising on publicly owned transport assets, for example,” said Professor McBride.

“They’ve done it in other jurisdictions in the world, in London and Amsterdam. That advertising is taken by other people – they’re not going to lose that revenue. But they won’t take leadership. And that is disappointing.”

Mr Park also refused to commit Labor to supporting the cashless gambling card despite knowing the harms from problem gambling.

Both he and Mr Hazzard were reluctant to criticise Clubs NSW or the Australian Hotels Association, saying “balance was needed”.

“I’m not going to smash clubs and pubs,” said Mr Park.

“They provide first jobs for young people and they provide food and services for people who may otherwise not be able to afford them, but I recognise the harm problem gambling does.”

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