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No Safe Use of Tobacco

Tasmania, an Australian island off the Southern coast, is considering an historic step for tobacco control. The Legislative Council is currently considering a proposal called Tobacco Free Generation (TFG), which would increase the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products every year, eventually phasing out the sale of tobacco products for any person born after the year 2000. It would affect only the sale of tobacco – there would be no penalties for smokers or for smoking. Tasmania tall

As Mr. Neil Francey of Northeastern University said, TFG would “eliminate from the marketplace a product that would never have been permitted in any civilized country had the authorities understood its addictive and lethal nature.” Read the proposal here>.

Of course, the tobacco industry has come out in force against this proposal. The Australian Retailers Association made a submission opposing Tobacco Free Generation that argued that “In principle, the retail sector fully supports a properly regulated system ensuring safe use of this product, allowing the legal sale by retailers to undertake harm reduction through education and restriction of sales to minors.”

There is an irreconcilable flaw in their argument; no amount of tobacco use is safe. No amount of regulation can ensure the safe use of tobacco, because tobacco is an inherently unsafe product. The Tobacco Free Generation proposal seeks to remedy that by phasing out all tobacco use.

Another group, the Alliance of Australian retailers, a tobacco industry front organization, also made a submission in opposition of the amendment. The group argues that TFG will “do nothing for public health” and parrots industry arguments that the law will negatively and unfairly impact small, local tobacco retailers.

While TFG has not yet been implemented anywhere in the world, there are evidence-based measures to show that increasing the minimum legal age does have an impact on public health. Needham, MA was the first U.S. locality to raise the minimum legal purchase age to 21. In the 4 years that followed, there was “a 47% reduction in the Needham high-school smoking rate.” Also of note, no tobacco retailers went out of business in Needham in the 4 years after the implementation of the law. Read more here>. Needham’s neighbor, Brookline, is considering the TFG concept.

Back in Tasmania, there were also submissions about the amendment by a number of public health groups, including ASH, legal experts, and ethicists, many of whom point out that there are no legal or ethical barriers to implementing Tobacco Free Generation, and they call on Tasmania to do so. Read more here>.

The Tasmania Legislative Committee has returned the Tobacco Free Generation bill to the Legislative Council with no serious objections, so it is now in the Council’s hands. Tasmania may be the first in the world to take this monumental step towards ending the tobacco epidemic.

Check back soon – ASH will continue to post updates on the status of Tasmania’s TFG amendment.