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Could a scheme for licensing smokers work in Australia?

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In a recent article in PLOS Medicine, Chapman argued for the mandatory introduction of a licensing system for adult smokers,1 using age- and identity-verifying licences based on smart-card technology. Producing the licence would be a precondition to all cigarette purchases by adults who opted, after a 12-month phase-in period, to continue smoking. Retailers would be required to reconcile all stock purchased from wholesalers against a digital record of retail sales to licensed smokers. Together, these requirements would create a robust incentive for retailers to comply with laws that prohibit tobacco sales to children2 and would enable creation of a database of smokers and their cigarette purchases. These data would be extremely valuable for improving understanding of smokers’ behaviour and monitoring the effectiveness of smoking-cessation initiatives.

We agree with Chapman that a smokers licence could be an important next step for reducing smoking rates, but we differ about the optimal design features of such a scheme. In our view, a smoker licensing scheme needs to be as simple as possible and to focus on two clear goals:

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