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Australia has new tobacco control legislation. Here’s what it means…

Introduction by Croakey: As public health leaders in Aotearoa/New Zealand reel from their newly-elected government’s decision to repeal what were world-leading smoke free laws, the Australian public health community is celebrating the passing of important tobacco control legislation.

Last week, the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023 was approved with new measures to “reduce the appeal and attractiveness of tobacco products, and limit the ability of industry to target their marketing and advertising to our most vulnerable people”.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said in a statement: “Together with the strong measures we’re taking against vaping, these reforms will help us keep pace with the cynical marketing strategies of Big Tobacco. The laws passed today will save lives.”

Below, in an article first published in PHAA Intouch Public Health, the Public Health Association of Australia’s Senior Policy and Advocacy Adviser Malcolm Baalman discusses the new Act, highlighting some of the significant changes.


Malcolm Baalman writes:

Arguably the most important item of public health legislation to be addressed by our national Parliament in over a decade was finally approved by the Senate last week.

The Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023 is the result of a four-year process called the thematic review of tobacco control legislation, conducted by the Department of Health since 2019. The review “drew on the suggestions of a range of stakeholders as to how the legislation could be improved to address current and future challenges and achieve the Government’s objectives in tobacco control”.

The long process also saw the release of the revised National Tobacco Strategy 2023–2030 in May 2023.

The national strategic goal is to get daily smoking prevalence to below 10 percent by 2025 and below 5 percent by 2030, and reduce the daily smoking rate among First Nations people to 27 percent or less by 2030. The national rate is currently around 11 percent, and slowly trending downward.

The smoking rate among young Australians is lower than 10 percent, but there are serious concerns that vaping use is causing an increase in young people taking up smoking.

Regulating tobacco products

Drawing on international best practices, the new Act will significantly tighten tobacco product regulation. It sets out to:

  • update and improve graphic health warnings on packaging
  • require health promotion inserts in packs and pouches
  • standardise the size of tobacco packets and products
  • prevent the use of specified ingredients in tobacco products that make tobacco more palatable
  • standardise the design and look of filters in cigarettes
  • limit the use of appealing brand and variant names that falsely imply reduced harm and a healthy nature, through words such as “fresh” and “light”.

The Act will also introduce powerful reporting requirements compelling the tobacco industry to disclose tobacco product ingredients, tobacco product sales volumes, and promotional activities. While tobacco advertising is banned, industry use various tactics to promote their products online – targeting younger generations of potential new users in particular. The new requirements will help with safety regulation and monitoring novel marketing techniques used to promote tobacco products.

Crucially, the Act will bring vaping products of all forms inside the law, applying the comprehensive prohibitions on advertising, sponsorship, and promotion that have applied to tobacco products for several decades.

These measures may each seem small in isolation, but they have been selected to further protect public health and contribute to a downward trend of tobacco consumption.

Strong support

After receiving strong advocacy from many in the public health community, including submissions (here) from PHAA, the Senate Committee that reported on the Bill strongly supported its urgent passage.

“The committee notes the overwhelming support for the bills, from public health experts and advocates who widely considered the reforms, will achieve their core objectives of improving the health of Australians by discouraging the use of tobacco products and restricting the promotion of e-cigarettes.

“The committee agrees with [public health experts] calls for the bills to be passed urgently, in recognition of the imminent sunsetting of Australia’s current tobacco control laws, and the pressing need for further reforms, given tobacco use persists as a key public health issue in Australia, remaining as our country’s leading cause of preventable death and disability and killing an estimated 20,000 Australians each year.

“The committee is pleased that the bills consolidate, streamline and modernise Australia’s existing tobacco control framework and believes that the reforms will assist in achieving Australia’s tobacco control targets, as set out in the National Tobacco Strategy 2023–2030, and help restore Australia as an international leader in tobacco control.”

No party in the Senate opposed the Bill, and opposition amendments to create a Commissioner to study and report on the illicit tobacco industry were agreed by the Government and other parties.

Life-saving reform

During the debate, independent Senator David Pocock also persuaded the Senate to agree to a motion that called on all politicians and political parties to stop accepting political donations from the tobacco industry, and revoke any passes that they have sponsored for members of the tobacco industry, and their agents, to access Parliament House.

The Greens were also successful with a motion relating to reducing the environmental impact of cigarette products, which are among the largest sources of environmental litter.

This reform is separate from the Government’s broader announcements about dealing with vaping, which were announced two weeks ago and will involve a separate package of legislation, regulatory directions, and program funding, starting on 1 January 2024.

“This new legislation, coupled with forthcoming vaping regulations, will save tens of thousands of lives and reassert the country as a world-leader in tobacco control,” PHAA CEO Adjunct Professor Terry Slevin said.

“We can never forget that these products have killed hundreds of millions of people around the world. All of these deaths have been preventable.”

PHAA congratulates Parliament on passing the Bill, which will protect everyone in Australia from the influence of the tobacco industry.

Want to know more?

There is an excellent ‘bill digest’ report published a few weeks ago by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, which explains everything in the Bill, and also contains a very useful overview of the background of tobacco regulation in Australia in recent decades; highly recommended reading.

From X/Twitter


See Croakey’s extensive archive of articles on tobacco control