Anti-Tobacco Push Resurfaces
12 February 2014 at 9:13 am
Australian anti-tobacco campaigners are leveraging last week’s announcement by a US retail chain that it would stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its 7,600 stores, encouraging Australian retailers to do the same.
Public health physician and conjoint senior lecturer in the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle, Craig Dalton has used the announcement to push for what he calls the ‘de-normalisation’ of retail tobacco sales.
Dalton’s campaign, Ban Retail Tobacco, calls for major retailers like Coles and Woolworths to be held accountable for the negative contributions their sale of tobacco makes to public health.
The decision by US pharmacy chain CVS Caremark, the first of its kind in the industry, has garnered global media coverage, including mainstream media attention in Australia.
“[The CVS decision] is an opportunity….as the issue gets more oxygen,” Dalton said. “It requires constant reinforcement.”
He said there was a slim chance of supermarkets in Australia taking action.
“I don’t think they’re that worried…I’d say there’d be less than a 20 per cent chance [of action]…but it’s gone from zero to a 20 per cent chance.”
Research undertaken by Dalton suggested that the sale of 2.3 billion cigarettes each year by an supermarket chain is enough to kill more than 1,600 Australians and cause tobacco-related medical costs of over A$300 million a year.
He said the sales equate to about a A$30,000 profit on each life lost to cigarettes.
CVS Caremark, meanwhile, estimates that it will lose approximately $2 billion in revenue on an annual basis from the tobacco shopper.
The US company’s President and CEO Larry Merlo said the sale of tobacco products was inconsistent with their purpose.
“Large supermarkets that want the health and wellness image to stick will realise tobacco is not compatible with this image,” Dalton said.
“Out in the back of marketing departments at Coles and Woolworths they are looking for points of differentiation and it’s potentially this.”
Dalton said partnering with health-focused charities was inadequate as opportunity to purchase was a critical part of the tobacco problem in Australia.
“They still sell and that’s the problem…the light at the end of the tunnel for me is cessation of sale.”
Dalton said that while government was moving towards the eradication of tobacco, they were failing to tackle the complexities of the issue.
“If we keep on increasing prices we’re creating a black market anyway.
“I’m more and more concerned about the stigmatisation of smokers. If we’re going to be so harsh on smokers, how can we allow it to be sold?” he said.
He said he was working on plans to expand his campaign further in future.