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Push to price tobacco out of reach

HEALTH Department chief Jane Halton has vowed to keep putting up the price of tobacco so it becomes “very unaffordable” and has declared she is on a “global crusade”against the “appalling behaviour of big tobacco”.

Four days before the 2012-13 budget, the secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing appeared to be hinting a tobacco tax rise could be on the way as the government tries to bring the budget back to surplus.

“I’m going to keep putting the price up so it becomes very unaffordable, it is a deliberate part of the weaponry,” she said in a lecture to the University of Canberra’s Centre for Research and Action in Public Health.

Later a spokeswoman for Ms Halton said she was merely stating her department’s desire to use price hikes as one of a suite of measures to control tobacco use.

“There is no suggestion this is part of the budget,” the spokeswoman said.

Ms Halton also told the seminar that persuading former prime minister Kevin Rudd to adopt plain tobacco packaging was one of the easiest policy decisions she’d ever achieved.

Mr Rudd had agreed to encase cigarette packs in drab green packets and remove company logos as soon as the concept was explained to him.

Ms Halton said she had “felt like turning cartwheels around the orange sofas in his office, but decided it wouldn’t be dignified”.

The government is facing a High Court challenge over the plain packaging policy and is fighting other challenges to it through world trade bodies.

Ukraine has taken issue with Australia’s policy through the World Trade Organisation and Ms Halton joked that it was a “well-known trading partner” of Australia, which traded with us “about $37 million worth of, I suspect, vodka made out of potato and tractor parts, but probably not tobacco”.

Accusing tobacco companies of targeting children in developing countries, she lamented the upswing in smoking rates in countries such as India and China.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon had been accused of taking a nanny state approach to health policy in alcohol and tobacco control and Ms Halton revealed the former health minister felt herself that she was “Nanny Nicola out there delivering a wowser message” when she was promoting her tax on alcopops.

Ms Halton said she told the minister to keep battling because it was a good message.

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