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Memo to Peter Dutton and other misinformed souls

The Opposition spokesman on health, Peter Dutton, was recently quoted in the SMH and other Fairfax publications arguing that increasing tobacco taxes is just a money grab and has “nothing to do with health outcomes”.

It’s time Mr Dutton, his staff, colleagues – and anyone else who happens to be poorly informed on this issue – became acquainted with an excellent initiative of the Centers for Disease Control in the US, the Community Guide to Preventive Services, which publishes recommendations based on rigorous systematic reviews of various public health interventions.

Even a quick perusal of the Guide’s website reveals that interventions to increase tobacco prices – including increasing tobacco taxes – have been proven to be an effective way of stopping adolescents and young adults from taking up the habit, reducing cigarette consumption, and increasing the number of smokers who quit.

The Guide says that such tax increases have also been shown to be more effective and have a greater public health impact when combined with other comprehensive tobacco control programs that reduce the prevalence of smoking through evidence-based policy tools. Increasing the price of cigarettes through tax increases can also diminish socioeconomic smoking disparities because low income groups are more responsive to price increases.

You can read more here.

The guide has also recently investigated the impact of increasing alcohol tax – another issue about which we hear a lot of poorly informed commentary.

It recommends increasing the unit price of alcohol by raising taxes, based on strong evidence of effectiveness for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms, including such as alcohol-impaired driving, motor vehicle crashes and fatalities, and deaths from cirrhosis of the liver.

The effect of price on alcohol consumption is expressed as “price elasticity” or the expected percentage change in alcohol consumption when the price is increased by 1%.

Estimated price elasticities for different types of alcohol are:

* Beer consumption: -0.50, which means beer consumption would be expected to decrease 5% for every 10% increase in price.
* Wine consumption: -0.64, which means wine consumption would be expected to decrease 6.4% for every 10% increase in price.
* Spirits consumption: -0.79, which means spirits consumption would be expected to decrease 7.9% for every 10% increase in price.
* Total alcohol (ethanol) consumption: -0.77, which means total alcohol consumption would be expected to decrease 7.7% for every 10% increase in price.

Just because the Guide does not recommend a public health intervention does not mean that it doesn’t work – it may, for example, simply mean that the necessary and appropriate studies just haven’t been done. But when the Guide does recommend an intervention, it’s pretty safe to assume that there is reliable evidence to show it works and is worthwhile doing.

The question I’m left wondering is: when politicians and others make ill-informed statements, should the media just report them straight up and down? It doesn’t take too much journalistic effort or investigation to check out whether claims such as Dutton’s are based on evidence or hot air.

The beauty of cyberspace is that we are all only a few clicks away from an ever-increasing array of initiatives that aim to share the evidence about what works in both health and social policy.

Comments 6

  1. Heathdon McGregor says:

    how have those recommendations changed in time? Are they any different from 5, 10 years ago or has the medical profession realised we have a wowser in office whose aim is to reeducate the poor via their hip pockets? The opposition floated this idea first, they dont disagree but they are correct when they call it a cash grab, if it was health policy then cigarettes would just be banned. Instead we have this system of everytime a government needs to tighten its spending it increases the tax on cigarettes or alcohol. Did the alcopos tax stop binge drinking or just cost the poor more money?

  2. pedro says:

    Dear Croakey – what a load of bull. As a person who has almost 20 years experience in the health sector (not in admin), your assertion that increasing taxes on tobacco equates to a utopic reduction in the number of smokers is up there with people who say smoking does not harm your health.

    It is rubbish.

    How easy it is to rely on some else’s research to back up your argument. What sort of research have you done – and I don’t mean reading others essays, thesis or findings! What sort of real research have you done? I would assume from your flagrant abuse of someone else’s research that you have done none.

    So let me tell you – increasing taxes leads to a temporary slow down in the up-take of smoking – a bit like a speed bump. People than get use to it and keep going. The take up then goes back to normal.

    The best deterrent is, and always has been, mass education. Now that is something you can draw a direct correlation with in regards to smoking numbers declining.

    Also it has been shown that more low income workers are likely to smoke than high income (I’m sure you can find someone else’s research to back this up if you look around). Therefore the people who are most disadvantaged by price rises are low income earners. But most of them don’t quit because of addiction.

    Addressing addiction should be the second thing the governments addresses. But Mr Rudds government won’t do that as it leads to a loss of revenue on 2 levels:
    1) Less people smoking = less revenue from taxes
    2) Subsidising people quitting is a costly expense and this government has just finished bankrupting the country and cannot afford it.

    No, this government is in revenue raising mode – we are not dumb – we all know it.

    Croakey, what a shame you read 1 or 2 papers on this issue and now consider yourself to be well informed. No wonder you write under a pseudonym. Go out and use cyber space better mate – I’m sure you can find some else’s initiatives to praise.

  3. David Sanderson says:

    Be fair, if you are a lazy, opportunist Opposition that can’t be bothered to do any serious policy work then it’s a bit much to expect the facts to get in the way of a handy attack one-liner that might be repeated by The Parrot.

    If I can get The Parrot to repeat my line a few times then I will pick up dozens of ignorant voters who would’ve voted for us anyway. If you’re a politician like me then I call that a good days work.
    Peter Dutton

  4. Jean Thornton says:

    I can’t understand the argument about tax on alochol and tobacco being just ‘tax grabs’. I do think that higher taxes on these items does work but even if it didn’t I’d rather the taxes came from these things – that people have a choice about purchasing and which are proved to cause ill health – than other tax areas. If I was the government I’d say ‘yes part of it IS a tax grab, we need taxes to pay for services and pay off debt so wouldn’t you rather we taxed fags and booze than increase income tax or whatever?’. Part of the need for higher taxes is the ever increasing cost of providing health services to people who smoke and drink too much.

  5. Greg Willis says:

    It is astounding dishonest that Melissa chooses to claim Dutton said one thing and counter that, rather than generate educated discussion about the topic.

    Dutton’s actual statement was “Don’t try and dress all of these issues up as health issues when really they are just about the Rudd Government trying to grab money” and that really gets to the core of it.

    No one, not Dutton or your average illiterate on the street will doubt that increasing the price of alcohol or tobacco decreases consumption. His point was simply that it is being considered first and foremost because it raises revenue for the government, that it has health benefits is also a nice guise to present to the media.

    People like Melissa Sweet demonstrate why such dishonesty was employed by Labor in the first place.

  6. harrybelbarry says:

    Peter Dutton should mention that the Liberals get a cash handout from big tobacco, just before he starts to defend increase taxs on tobacco. Why should non -smokers pay for their medical bills later down the track?. I do believe the govts. are drug dealers and are hooked on their share of the blood money.

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Summer reading 2020-2021
Tasmanian election 2021
Testing Croakey News category 1
The Croakey Archives
#cripcroakey
#HealthEquity16
#HealthMatters
#IHMayDay (all years)
#IHMayDay 2014
#IHMayDay15
#IHMayday16
#IHMayDay17
#IHMayDay18
#LoveRural 2014
Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017
#BTH20
#CATSINaM17
#ClimateHealthStrategy
#IAHAConf17
#IDS17
#LBQWHC17
#LivingOurWay
#OKtoAskAu
#OTCC2017
#ResearchTranslation17
#TheMHS2017
#VMIACConf17
#WCPH2017
Australian Palliative Care Conference
2018 conferences
#6rrhss
#ACEM18
#AHPA2018
#ATSISPC18
#CPHCE
#MHED18
#NDISMentalHealth
#Nurseforce
#OKToAsk2018
#RANZCOG18
#ResearchIntoPolicy
#VHAawards
#VMIACAwards18
#WISPC18
2019 Conferences
#ACEM19
#CPHCE19
#EquallyWellAust
#GiantSteps19
#HealthAdvocacyWIM
#KTthatWorks
#LowitjaConf2019
#MHAgeing
#NNF2019
#OKtoAsk2019
#RANZCOG19
#RANZCP2019
#ruralhealthconf
#VMIAC2019
#WHOcollabAHPRA
Croakey Professional Services archive
#bettercareseries
#CommunityControl Twitter Festival
ACSQHC series 2019
Croakey projects archive
#IndigenousHealthSummit
#IndigenousNCDs
#JustClimate
#JustJustice
Croakey register of influence
Croakey Register of Influencers in Public Health
Croakey Register of Unreleased Documents
Naked Doctor
Poems of Public Health
Summer Reading 2016-2017