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Push on for world’s first tobacco-free generation

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Tasmania could become virtually smoke-free by the middle of the century under a radical proposal to ban its sale to anyone born on or after 2000.

The Tasmanian Parliament is due to debate legislation next year that would make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born in 2000 or later, creating what its supporters hope would the world’s first tobacco-free generation.

Tasmanian Upper House MP Ivan Dean has introduced a Private Members Bill, to be debated next year, which would change current laws that make it legal for children born in 2000 to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products once they reach 18 years in 2018. Instead, it would continue to be illegal to sell them tobacco products.

One of the key supporters of the initiative, Kathryn Barnsley, of the University of Tasmania’s Centre of Research Excellence for Chronic Respiratory Disease and Lung Ageing, said the reform would see sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products in the island State gradually decline.

“It is important to emphasise that smokers would not be criminalised or penalised,” Ms Barnsley said. “It is the commercial sales of cigarettes that would be phased out over the next 40 years, and only the sellers would be subject to penalties.”

Smoking rates are declining nationwide, with Australian Institute of Health and Welfare official figures showing just 12.8 per cent of those aged 14 years or older smoked daily in 2013 – half the rate in 1991.

But Tasmanians tend to smoke more than the national average – almost 16 per cent of those aged 14 years or older smoked on a daily basis in 2010, and a 2011 survey in the State found 9 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds had smoked in the previous week.

Public health experts are particularly concerned about smoking among adolescents because evidence shows about 75 per cent of teenagers who smoke regularly continue with the deadly habit as adults.

Backers of the Tobacco Free Generation initiative said the key goal was to prevent young people from taking up the habit in the first place.

It is estimated that, in its first year of operation in 2018, the legislation would prevent 800 to 1000 18-year-olds from legally purchasing cigarettes.

Backers of the proposal argue that its strength lies in the fact that it does not seek to affect existing smokers, such as with an immediate ban on tobacco sales, which they warned could raise a host of difficult problems.

Because of tobacco’s highly addictive properties, they said, people already addicted to its use “cannot deal with an instant ban. Change has to be staged. An overnight ban creates the problem of addicts whose addiction has just become illegal”.

Instead, they argue their proposal is much more manageable, and will see demand for cigarettes reduced gradually but inexorably over time.

“It is a very slow phase-in over 20 to 40 years. It allows retailers to have many years to adjust to selling other products,” they said.

Adrian Rollins