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Monday, March 14, 2016

'New wave of quitting' likely as we smoke less

Plain packaging and higher cigarette prices appear to have done more than cut the number of people who smoke. They've also cut the amount remaining smokers smoke.

Official surveys conducted by the Institute of Health and Welfare and the Bureau of Statistics find that in the past decade the number of Australians smoking has fallen 25 per cent. But an analysis of the December quarter Australian National Accounts conducted by health policy specialist Martyn Goddard finds the volume of tobacco consumed over those 10 years has fallen 48 per cent.

He says the difference can only be explained by the remaining smokers smoking less – at least 30 per cent less.

"It might well be more, because people who successfully quit are more likely to be low to moderate smokers than those who remain."

"On that basis, they would be responsible for less than an equal share of any overall consumption decline, and current smokers responsible for more."

Mr Goddard said it was impossible to say which tobacco control measure was the most responsible. But it was clear that restrictions on where people could smoke had made it more difficult to be a heavy smoker and almost impossible to be a chain smoker. Many of the restrictions had been introduced in the past 10 years.

It wasn't at all clear that the Australians who had cut back were less likely to die, but it was certain they were better placed to give up completely.

"They have less of a nicotine habit, they may already have tried to give up and not yet succeeded; and lowering smoking gradually to zero, combined with nicotine patches, is just as effective as going cold-turkey," he said.

The cutbacks were setting the scene for a new wave of quitting.

In March an extra 19 cents was added to the price of a packet of 30 cigarettes in the latest half yearly round of excise increases, taking the price to $16.12.

In September an extra $3 a pack will be added in addition to the excise increase in the last of the four increases of 12.5 per cent imposed by the Gillard Labor government and maintained by the Coalition.

Labor has promised an extra four more increases of 12.5 per cent if elected, lifting the excise to around three quarters of the retail price.

Australia survived a challenge to its plain packaging laws from Philip Morris International under a Hong Kong Australia investment treaty, and is at present defending itself against a challenge in the World Trade Organisation from Cuba, the Ukraine, the Dominican Republic and Honduras.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald