To help put an end to smoking, Australia is considering a bold new policy that would make cigarettes available by prescription only.
The plan is being researched by a new center at the University of Queensland called the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMR) New Centre of Research Excellence on Achieving the Tobacco Endgame (CREATE).
According to a statement from director Coral Gartner, the goal of the new center is “permanently reducing overall smoking prevalence to a minimal level within a defined timeframe.”
“Once seen as unthinkable, this goal is now part of mainstream public health research, and incorporated into government health policy in some countries,” Gartner wrote in the statement.
Other measures the country has employed to curb the rate of smoking include making them more expensive (a pack of 25 Marlboro Golds now costs more than $35 American dollars following a Sept. 1 price hike) and selling them in plain brown packages with graphic health warnings. There is also a ban on advertising cigarettes and stringent restrictions on where smoking is allowed.
As part of “the tobacco endgame” from CREATE, Australia is also considering banning the sale of cigarettes to citizens born after a certain year.
“Australia’s smoking prevalence is just under 15%, but we will need a well-designed endgame strategy if we are to achieve close to zero smoking,” Gartner, also an associate professor at University of Queensland, told 7 News.
Not everyone is convinced that a prescription-only model will work.
“Cigarettes will never go on prescription because there is no medical benefit from getting access to tobacco,” Simon Chapman, emeritus professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, told The New Daily.
While rates of smoking in Australia have decreased significantly and steadily since the 1970s, companies that make up the tobacco industry have been creative in their efforts to get young people hooked on tobacco products, Chapman said, such as the introduction of vaping and e-cigarettes.
“It’s common knowledge that [tobacco companies] are panicked,” Chapman said. “And so they’re introducing those products that they’re calling ‘harm reduced’ and trying to make out that they’re almost benign — that they’re kind of almost as good as not smoking at all. But, of course, they’re terribly, terribly addictive still. So they’re sort of trying to get kids interested.”
E-cigarettes containing nicotine are currently illegal in Australia, but will be allowed by prescription starting in June 2021 as a drug designed to help people quit smoking. The Therapeutic Goods Administration reclassified nicotine from a dangerous poison to a prescription-only medication in an interim decision in late September. If made final, the decision affects e-juice, snuff, chewing tobacco, and heat-not-burn tobacco products.
The goal of the Australian government is to reduce smoking prevalence in the country to 10% by 2025. Smoking is currently responsible for nearly one in seven deaths of Australians.
“An effective tobacco endgame strategy should accelerate the decline in smoking prevalence while assisting governments, retailers and people who smoke to transition to a smoke-free society,” Gartner said in the statement from CREATE.