A proposal that smoking should be restricted to those 21 and over has won support from health experts.
Professor Sanchia Aranda, CEO of the Cancer Council, is “cautiously optimistic” about the measures suggested by mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.
Professor Aranda referred to national surveys which have indicated that 80% of the 18-24 age demographic have reported never trying a cigarette.
However, 2% of respondents from that age group reported that they are regular smokers, and that addiction to cigarettes lasts until adulthood.
“The critical thing about this measure is whether or not it’s a delay of that first smoke, and if so, does it result in a reduced number of kids taking up that habit in the first place?” Professor Aranda said.
Similar measures are currently being trialled in the United States, but Professor Aranda said there had been no “evaluation outcomes” of these measures.
“The modelling that Mr Forrest's team has done seems to be compelling, but we would want to see that the evidence lined up against other tobacco measures,” she said.
The two biggest deterrents to people taking up a smoking habit, or maintaining a smoking habit, are taxations placed on tobacco products, and “hard hitting” public awareness campaigns about the effects of cigarettes on a person’s health.
“So we know that taxation definitely affects young people, and those from poorer families. So taxation is a really important measure, perhaps the most important for youth,” Professor Aranda said.
“And hard hitting public awareness campaigns need to be used in conjunction with taxation, because we want people to understand the health benefits, not just the cost benefits [of quitting].”
John Dennehy, who is on the council of the National Rural Health Alliance, also believes that while the proposed measures may help deter young people from smoking, there still needs to be a push to educate more people about smoking risks.
“We know smoking kills, we know people are still engaging in it, we need new and innovative ways to target young people, especially Indigenous Australians and those in rural and remote areas,” he said.
According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) 2016, two-thirds of smokers who are 18+ are motivated to quit smoking, with 52% citing the rising costs of tobacco products, compared to 44% who cited health reasons.
Mr Dennehy linked the economic burden of buying cigarettes to people having a lower quality of life, particularly in rural and remote communities.
“The average age a rural person starts smoking is 15, and for a metropolitan person that’s 16. That's below the age where they can legally obtain cigarettes, but the ability to maintain the habit is not until they develop an income. And that has an impact not only on their health status, but their ability to maintain their smoking,” Mr Dennehy said.
“Quitting smoking not only decreases the burden of disease, but a pack a day smoker, at $35 a packet, that's $247 a week. That definitely impacts people of a lower income or who are on minimum wage.”
“In rural areas where smoking rates are higher, there are more children per family, and therefore a higher cost of fuel and food. The children are not the only reason for the higher cost of food, there's also food security issues - having access to fresh fruit and vegetables at a reasonable cost.”
According to Mr Dennehy, while the current anti-smoking laws have resulted in a decrease of smokers,more needed to be done for specific demographics.
“Metropolitan smoking rates have decreased to 14.6% of the population, but in rural areas we're looking at 19% of people smoking, and in remote areas, we're looking at 22%. When we look at Indigenous populations, in metropolitan areas we're looking at 40% of smokers, but in a remote area, it's 53%.”
Both Mr. Dennehy and Professor Aranda believed that targeting families and communities with health awareness campaigns was key to discouraging lower socio-economic groups, rural Australians, and Indigenous Australians from smoking.
“I think that one of the really interesting things is that kids from non-smoking families are less likely to smoke than smoking families, so approaches which work on parents as role models are really important,” said Professor Aranda.
“We need approaches which really hone in on that family group, and how difficult it is to quit when you're the only one in a family of smokers who is trying to quit.”
“And so I think it's really interesting to think about whether we could test model families and communities, rather than just individuals, for healthy behaviour changes.”