Reforms won’t stop flow of tobacco’s ‘dirty dollars’

4 minute read

Proposed legislation on smoking and vaping control still allow corporate giants to game the system, warn the RACGP and AMA.

The AMA has come out swinging against draft reforms to tobacco laws, which will still allow major companies to make gifts and payments to politicians during election season.

Consultation on the draft Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Legislation 2023 opened in late May and closed on Friday.

It consolidates the various tobacco-related laws, regulations and court decisions, as well as reforms announced in the last year, which include capturing vaping products in advertising restrictions and banning menthol additives.

The draft legislation is separate from the crackdown on illegal vaping announced by Health Minister Mark Butler at the National Press Club earlier this year, but is also designed to fit with the National Tobacco Strategy released in May.

While both the AMA and RACGP wrote submissions to the Department of Health broadly supporting the proposed laws, both peak doctor bodies identified loopholes that may be exploited by big tobacco companies.

Sections 39 and 66, for example, exempt gifts and payments or reimbursements to politicians and political parties during an election from the general ban on industry sponsorship by tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturers.

AMA president Professor Steve Robson called the exemptions “disappointing”, and the association called for all parties to refuse tobacco sponsorship in any form.

“The only reason the tobacco and e-cigarette industry is lobbying politicians is to try to create conditions that foster and support the growth of their businesses,” he said.

“Legal and political efforts by the tobacco industry have hampered tobacco control efforts.

“We need politicians to put the health of all Australians ahead of the dirty dollars received from big tobacco.”

The association’s other major criticism of the Bill was that it wasn’t forward-thinking enough, with no explicit mention of regulating social media marketing to underage audiences or accounting for novel or emerging tobacco products which could potentially circumvent its regulations.

One potential emerging class of products, according to the RACGP’s submission, is heated tobacco products – these are similar to nicotine vaping products in that they produce a vapour instead of a smoke, but diverge in that they use processed tobacco product, like leaf, rather than an e-liquid.

The college pointed out that it had previously raised red flags over tobacco company Philip Morris International promoting heated tobacco as a safer alternative to regular cigarettes.

“Claims that heated tobacco products pose a lower risk to health due to milder exposure to toxicants have been refuted and such assertions have parallels with the now illegal marketing by tobacco companies promoting light and mild cigarettes and filtered and low-tar cigarettes as being safer,” the RACGP said.

“The draft Bill will also need scope to capture potential new tobacco products as they emerge.”

It also went a step further than the AMA and recommended that sponsorship prohibitions be extended to apply to entities that may be acting on a tobacco company’s behalf.

Earlier this month, reports surfaced that Philip Morris International was marketing its VEEV line of nicotine vaping products directly to pharmacies with an introductory offer designed to undercut competitors.

VEEV’s link to Philip Morris International – i.e. that the tobacco giant owns and manufactures it – was only mentioned in small print at the bottom of the brochure.

The introductory offer would net participating pharmacists an 80% margin, so long as they sign a supply agreement with VEEV and agree to sell the devices at $19.90 or less, the Guardian Australia reported.

Equivalent products from other wholesalers have a recommended retail price of about $25.

With the first round of public consultation on the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill now over, the next move from the Department of Health is not yet clear.

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