Australia - Comments on the National Preventative Health Taskforce's Proposal..

September 2, 2009 - Health experts have praised the National Preventative Health Taskforce's proposed crackdown on cigarettes, alcohol and junk food. Industry, meanwhile, has called for more time for new self-regulation measures to take effect.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) says the report, delivered on Tuesday to federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon, represented a 'national strategic approach' to preventative health. The measures, if implemented, could 'deliver health benefits' across the community, it said. AMA president Dr Andrew Pesce said the association welcomed the taskforce's recommendations to introduce simple nutritional labeling on food, restrict alcohol and junk food promotion to young people and children, and ban all remaining forms of tobacco promotion along with a hike in cigarette costs. 'People need help to be convinced to adopt the lifestyle changes that will provide better health and better quality of life, Dr Pesce said, adding that frontline doctors also would play a vital role.

One key recommendation is for all tobacco products to be sold in plain packaging, and to increase the cost of a packet of 30 cigarettes from $13 to at least $20 within three years. Tobacco control expert Simon Chapman, the University of Sydney's Professor in Public Health, said the price hike would move Australia more into line with other western countries. In Ireland a packet costs $20 while in Norway it was $23.

Cancer Council Australia said the Rudd government was elected to office after campaigning for a 'major shift in health policy towards disease prevention' and it was now time to deliver. 'The recommendations are an urgently required blueprint for preventing cancers attributed to smoking, obesity and alcohol, as cancer incidence in Australia is likely to increase by around 30 per cent every decade until the middle of the century,' said the council's chief executive officer, Professor Ian Olver.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) welcomed the further recommendation to introduce Australia-wide legislation to ban smoking in all motor vehicles carrying children.
'Our bars are actually now smoke free almost across the country - so why on earth do we continue to allow people to smoke in cars with kids?' said RACP president Professor George Rubin.

The Perth-based Telethon Institute for Child Health Research said the measures were needed as 'current approaches are unsustainable'. 'We cannot continue to absorb spiraling costs when many of the most burdensome health conditions are lifestyle-based and preventable,' said the director, Professor Fiona Stanley. 'There is a history of industry opposition to these types of initiatives, but now is the time to stand firm and commit to a pathway that will bring real quality of life to so many people, particularly our children.'

The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) said the fast food chains had already agreed on a new self-regulated code on advertising to children, and this should be given more time to 'become fully operational and demonstrate its effectiveness'. 'By contrast, any ban or new, strict regulations on marketing would be costly and burdensome for governments to implement, monitor and enforce with no corresponding health benefit,' said AANA's chief executive Scott McClellan.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) also said it had moved to introduce 'a number of self-regulated measures' including new front of pack nutrition labelling and moves to reduce salt and trans-fats in processed foods.

The Brewers Association of Australia said it was now looking forward to talks with government on how to 'improve drinking choices for that minority of Australians whose excessive consumption may put them and others at risk'. But the association's executive director Stephen Swift also pointed to 'career anti-alcohol activists' who he said were working behind the scenes and who 'often have an economic interest in pushing further research'. 'They will have lobbied hard in the preparation of these recommendations,' Mr Swift said. 'So our industry looks to government to moderate this ongoing debate and ... that policies in this area should be squarely based on demonstration of the facts, not just demonisation of an industry and its consumers.

Reference: Bad habits crackdown backed by experts,, 9/2/2009.

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