Stub out ciggies for good
IT'S been 100 years since the first medical textbook identified a link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer.
So how strange is it that in 2012 we can walk into any supermarket and buy cigarettes?
Retail tobacco sales in Australia cause 15,000 preventable deaths each year.
A ban on retail tobacco sales would make almost every other public health intervention in Australia a trivial sideshow.
It's time to set a date for a tobacco-free Australia.
It's weird that one supermarket chain can trumpet its ethical credentials in animal welfare while selling 2.3 billion cigarettes each year - enough to kill more than 1600 Australians.
The government doesn't seem to think it's wrong that retailers sell cigarettes. But it would be wrong to sell confectionery cigarettes and chewing tobacco, which are both banned - chewing tobacco because it can cause cancer, confectionery cigarettes because they encourage children to smoke.
It's weird that real cigarettes laced with chemically engineered nicotine do a lot better job of both encouraging smoking and causing cancer but they're not banned.
I called to ask the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Product Safety Australia why cigarettes weren't banned. They don't know.
Under the new Australian Consumer Law of 2010, however, they're happy to receive reports of any consumer product that causes harm.
Doctors - are you listening?
Retailing tobacco is the act performed by people with high socio-economic power. But many smokers lack any political or financial power and do not respond to government regulations with lawsuits.
So it's easier for government regulations to focus on the act of smoking, not selling.
There are bans on smoking in many public places, in cars with children, in some private apartment blocks, and on hospital grounds.
TV ads paid for by the government focus on de-normalising smoking. But the collateral damage is the de-normalisation of smokers themselves, leading to stigmatisation.
When will we finally reach the logical conclusion that banning tobacco is much more compassionate than squeezing smokers with more and more painful stigmatisation?
This would not be a ban on the substance desired by smokers - nicotine, which would still be available - but a ban on its most deadly form of delivery, retail sales.
Some public health experts envision a future in which increasing tobacco taxes will chip the smoking rate away to nothing.But this may not be realistic.
Imagine just 5% of Australians smoking in 2025 - that's still over one million people who are at risk of tobacco-related illness. And it will be one million desperate people if they are paying $30 or $50 per packet of cigarettes. The times are changing and the public is ready for a total retail tobacco ban.
A target date for banning retail tobacco would be a game changer in the Commonwealth Government's negotiations with tobacco companies.
It would say - you are on borrowed time and your every threat to flood our market with cheap tobacco and waste our money in court cases only strengthens our resolve to make your product illegal.
Let's set the date.
Craig Dalton is conjoint senior lecturer School of Medicine and Public Health at University of Newcastle.