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Tasmanian plans to lift legal smoking age to 21 or 25 could be world first

Civil Liberties Australia (CLA) says a plan by the Tasmanian Government to lift the legal smoking age as high as 25 could leave the state with the strictest tobacco laws in the world.

The Tasmanian Government revealed an ambitious plan that could result in Tasmania becoming the only state in Australia to raise the legal age for smoking above 18.

It is part of a five-year preventative health plan to try and make Tasmania Australia’s healthiest state by 2025.

The strategy has a specific focus on reducing Tasmania’s high obesity levels and smoking rates.

About 20 per cent of Tasmanians smoke, the second highest rate in Australia, and Health Minister Michael Ferguson said the Government wanted to stop young people lighting up.

“We are proposing that we lift the legal smoking age potentially above 18, to potentially 21 or potentially 25,” he said.

“[In Tasmania] we have unacceptably high rates of smoking, we know that every cigarette is doing you damage and, despite our best efforts through public health over a number of years, we’re still nowhere near we’re we need to be.

“We have over 20 per cent of Tasmanians regular smokers, we have very high rates of youth smoking and one-third of young teenage mothers smoking during pregnancy.

“We’ve got to own up to this and be willing to have a genuine community debate.”

Around Australia, people under 18 cannot buy, smoke or possess cigarettes and health professionals agreed raising the legal age, especially in Tasmania, was a step in the right direction.

CLA Chief executive Bill Rowlings said it was a surprising move to look at tobacco laws without considering other health factors.

“If you’re going to look at what age people are entitled to do things, you’ve got to look at driving and at drinking alcohol and other measures,” he said.

“If this is a health-based initiative, the big issue at the moment is domestic violence, and domestic violence is far more driven by alcohol-related problems then it is by tobacco.

“I think we should have a very broad-ranging debate on what the proper ages are for various activities.”


The Tasmanian Small Business Council describes the plan as unworkable.

Executive director Robert Mallett said educational programs were preferable to a framework that puts the burden on retailers.

“The likelihood that a 22-year-old or a 25-year-old will intimidate a young 18-year-old standing at the counter of a country grocery store is high,” he said.

“What would that person do? You’d supply the product, wouldn’t you, rather than be intimidated by a much older person when you’re saying, ‘Can I have a look at your ID?'”

Mr Mallett was concerned such a proposal would be a burden to business.

“Tobacco products are a legal thing to sell and for lots of small businesses, especially in rural and remote areas, it’s a significant part of their daily income,” he said.

“It’s a major part of their convenience offering… it’s going to have a significant effect on their viability.

“The last thing we’re going to do is stop our regional areas from having any sort of good-quality businesses just for some idiot sort of policy like this.”


Penny Egan from the Cancer Council said the percentage of young people smoking in Tasmania was much higher than other states.

“In the cohort of young people between 18 and 24, we know that about 32 per cent of those people are smoking,” she said.

“That’s double what that same cohort is doing in other states and territories.

“We need to get rid of that addiction [and] putting up the age may be one of the answers.”

An idea backed by the Australian Medical Association’s Tasmanian branch secretary Tim Greenaway.

“The important thing to realise is 100 per cent of habitual smokers have started smoking by the age of 25,” he said.

“Two-thirds of all smokers will die from smoking-related diseases and smoking causes more deaths than drug and alcohol abuse combined, so we must target smoking.”

The State Government’s entire health plan will not be put out for public consultation until the middle of February 2016.


Tasmanian MLC Ivan Dean said the State Government’s idea gazumped his plan to ban smoking for everyone born from the year 2000.

His bill is currently being considered by a Parliamentary Committee.

He was not convinced the State Government’s proposal would be more effective in reducing smoking rates.

“It really doesn’t change what we’ve got now,” he said.

“We’re saying at 18 years of age smoking is OK for you, that’s the anomaly in the law and that’s what raising it from 21 or 25 will do as well.

“It indicates or supports smoking at some age.”

Mr Dean said he did not want to see his plan ignored by the State Government.

“It’s still on the table and it will be coming back before the Parliament in early 2016,” he said.

But Mr Ferguson said it would still be considered when presented to Parliament.

“I think we all applaud the intent of that bill,” he said.

“It’s subject to a parliamentary process and the Government will absolutely reserve judgement on how it will respond to that.

“But it’s well documented — I mean, there are difficulties with that proposal.”

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