Support for a smoke free environment

(11.41am 13 June 2012, Parliament House Sydney)

I support the Tobacco Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, which will ban smoking in playgrounds, public sportsgrounds, swimming pools, public transport stops and entrances to public buildings from 7 January next year and in outdoor dining areas from 2015, although I wish that were sooner. We know the devastating impacts of smoking on health, such as the increased risks of heart disease, various cancers, diabetes and emphysema. While smoking rates are decreasing in the general population, many people continue to smoke and take up smoking, particularly younger people, low-income single parents, Aboriginal people, people in prison, people with a mental illness and people with a drug addiction. The impacts of smoking on the environment and health affect many members of the community.

The City of Sydney regularly receives complaints about cigarette litter and second-hand smoke, primarily from smoking outside central business district office blocks, areas that children frequent, on benches in parks or plazas, and outside licensed premises. Managing smoking in the public domain is a major challenge. The city undertakes a number of actions, including the Zero Waste Partners program, Butt Blitz campaigns, enforcement of littering offences, enforcement of ashtray provision and installation, refusal of tobacco sponsorship, prohibition of tobacco sales and promotions from mobile sites and provision of an outdoor dining ashtray. But councils can only prohibit smoking in public places by placing ordinance signs in each location. This involves a significant number of signs and would require the public to self-regulate by choosing to comply with signs to police smoking by others because signs can only be enforced if smoking is witnessed by a council ranger. This is not effective; rangers cannot be stationed in every place and the proliferation of signs would clutter the busy public domain.

Some councils have imposed bans in outdoor dining areas by making it a condition of consent, but this cannot be retrospective, which means that new venues would be subject to rules that older venues are not. Bans can be imposed when footway licences come up for review, but these come up every three years and this approach would also create inconsistencies among the venues, punishing some over others. These approaches create inconsistencies among council areas and therefore community confusion. The New South Wales Heart Foundation's 2010 survey of smoking policy by councils highlights discrepancies. Out of 152 councils, 75 have smoking bans at playgrounds, 22 at outdoor dining areas, 35 at pools and 13 at bus shelters. This bill, fortunately, will create a uniform ban at outdoor areas where the impact of second-hand smoke is of great concern, thus sending a consistent message across the State of areas in which smoking is prohibited without the need for ordinance signs or specific conditions of consent. That will be very welcome.

The bill supports the policies of peak health and smoking bodies on exposure to second-hand smoke, and will enhance the capacity of local councils to manage smoking outdoors more effectively. The public will get clear information on where smoking is unacceptable no matter where they live in New South Wales. Statewide bans in Queensland and Tasmania for outdoor dining areas or the entrances of public buildings, for example, demonstrate that statewide laws can improve outdoor smoking management. I welcome the Government's targets to reduce smoking rates. Stronger targets for Aboriginal people will require funding for supportive and culturally appropriate smoking cessation services and I welcome this as a priority area in the Government's discussion paper on tobacco control last year.

Another issue that the Government will need to address is second-hand smoke in apartments. Apartment living is the fastest-growing form of housing in Sydney and it is essential that there are adequate protections to ensure that it is a healthy and sustainable form of living. Many of my constituents contact me about smoke seeping into their homes from neighbours' balconies when their windows are open or through air vents within their homes. More families are moving into apartments and second-hand smoke is a particular concern to those families with young children. Everyone deserves access to a smoke-free home and I hope the Government is able to ensure this through either smoke-free or strata legislation. I support the bill. It will reduce public exposure to harmful second-hand smoke and I commend it to the House.

On a personal note, I come from a long line of addicts. My grandmother took up smoking. My mother, my sisters and in fact my whole family were smokers. When we were living in London I was told to stop smoking. I had a very severe bout of bronchitis and the doctor told me I would be dead in 10 years if I continued to smoke. I had a child and a husband, so I stopped. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It took me two years to get over it. I used to sit near smokers to imbibe over that two-year period; it was just terrible. I know how hard it is for addicts; they have my absolute support and compassion. We need to do everything we can to support them.

These measures, which make one feel such an outsider because smoking is not supported, can really help, and they can help everyone else. When I was in London and I found out I was pregnant, I was told that a good thing to do if I wanted to breastfeed was to have a cigarette to help me relax. That is how far we have come. After I had my baby I remember sitting in a maternity ward in a wonderful little hospital in Hampstead in London with all the mums smoking; it was just incredible. Now that we know how bad smoking is for you and how hard it is for people to give it up, we must do everything we can to assist them. This might be the most important thing the Minister is doing for community health so I commend her for this initiative. The community supports her and I commend the bill to the House.