Australia has been, and remains, a global leader in tobacco control, with a history of progressively enacting legislation to reduce the health scourge of smoking. Learn more about some of the most important reforms that have shaped the landscape.
The National Tobacco Strategy 2023-2030
In early May 2023, the Government released the National Tobacco Strategy 2023 – 2030. The strategy aims to improve public health in Australia by reducing smoking rates and stamping out illegal vaping, setting out 11 priority areas for action:
The 11 Priority Areas for Action
Protect public health policy, including tobacco control policies, from all commercial and other vested interests
Develop, implement and fund evidence based integrated public health campaigns and other communication tools to motivate people who use tobacco to quit and recent quitters to continue smoking abstinence; discourage uptake of tobacco use; and reshape social norms about the tobacco industry and tobacco use
Continue to reduce the affordability of tobacco products
Strengthen and expand efforts and partnerships to prevent and reduce tobacco use among First Nations people
Strengthen efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use among populations at a higher risk of harm from tobacco use and populations with a high prevalence of tobacco use
Eliminate all tobacco-related advertising, promotion and sponsorship
Further regulate the contents and product disclosures pertaining to tobacco products
Strengthen regulation to reduce the supply, availability and accessibility of tobacco products
Strengthen regulations on e-cigarettes and novel and emerging products
Eliminate exceptions to smokefree workplaces, public places and other settings
Provide greater access to evidence-based cessation services to support people to quit the use of tobacco, e-cigarettes and novel and emerging products
ACOSH has strongly endorsed the strategy, but it will also require support from all states and territories. ACOSH continues to advocate for states and territories to endorse the National Tobacco Strategy 2023 – 2030 and achieve or even surpass the demonstrated best practice actions outlined in it.
Australia’s Policies on E-cigarettes
A key update in the National Tobacco Strategy 2023 – 2030 was strong action to stamp out illegal vaping.
Australia had already adopted a strict regulatory environment for tobacco products, making it illegal to manufacture, supply or sell nicotine e-cigarettes, as required by all states and territories (unless through doctor’s prescription).
However, many deliberately mislabelled ‘non-nicotine’ vapes that contained significant amounts of nicotine were pouring through our borders and being sold by retailers in a rampant black market.
The new strategy closes that loop by only allowing e-cigarettes into the country if they have a prescription, circumventing access to supply for those illegally selling vapes.
The reforms cover several more important actions to curb illegal vaping, particularly among young people. To learn more about the strategy’s actions on e-cigarettes, download our infographic.
Tobacco Control Policies in Australia
Australia has been a world leader in tobacco control, progressively enacting legislation to reduce the devastating impacts of tobacco products and smoking. View the history of tobacco control or take a look below at some of the key legislation in Australia.
Smoke Free Car Laws
Exposure to second-hand smoke, particularly in confined areas like cars, is hazardous to our health – especially to children. To protect kids from tobacco smoke in cars, all Australian states and territories have banned smoking in cars with kids.
For current rules, penalties and fines, check your local government legislation.
South Australia – May 31, 2007
South Australia was the first Australian state to ban smoking in vehicles when children under 16 are present. If caught smoking in a car with a child in South Australia, people can face fines up to $750.
Tasmania – Jan 1, 2008
In 2008, Tasmania banned smoking in vehicles carrying passengers under 18 years old. In Tasmania, smoking is also banned in work vehicles if another person is present. If caught, people can face a fine of $120, but if it goes to court, fines of up to $2,400 can be imposed by a magistrate.
New South Wales – Jul 1, 2009
In New South Wales there is a smoking ban in cars carrying someone under 16 years old. The offence carries an on-the-spot fine of $250 and if it goes to court, the maximum fine that can be imposed by a magistrate is $1,100.
Victoria – Jan 1, 2010
In 2010, Victoria implemented a smoking ban in cars carrying someone under 16 years old. The on-the-spot fine for this offence is 2 penalty points (around $369 in 2023).
Queensland – Jan 1, 2010
Queensland banned smoking in cars carrying children under the age of 16 years. This includes smoking products such as e-cigarettes.
Western Australia – Sep 22, 2010
In WA, smoking is prohibited in cars carrying children under 17 years old. The penalties for breaking these laws are an infringement notice of $200 or if it goes to court, there is a maximum penalty of $1,000.
Australian Capital Territory, May 1, 2012
It’s an offence in ACT to smoke with a person under the age of 16 in the car, with a potential on-the-spot fine of between $110 – $440 (if the person continues to smoke after being asked to stop) and a maximum penalty of 20 penalty units (around $3,000 in 2023).
Graphic Health Warnings & Plain Packaging
In Australia, cigarette packets feature some confronting graphic health warning labels.
This rule came into effect in Australia in 2006, for health warnings to occupy 30% of the front and 90% of the back of cigarette packets. These warnings were designed to provide smokers information on the health impacts of smoking.
There are 2 sets of 7 health warnings, which are alternated every 12 months.
Alongside graphic images and descriptions, the number for Quitline is included on the packet. In 2012, it was also required for cigarette packets sold in Australia to appear in a drab olive-green colour with no corporate branding and 75% of the front displaying a graphic health warning. This removed one of the last remaining forms of tobacco advertising in Australia and one of the insidious ways the industry attracts smokers.
For her role releasing a public exposure draft of legislation to make plain packaging of all tobacco products mandatory by July 2012, Hon Ms Nicola Roxon, former Attorney-General; Federal Minister for Health, received the 2017 Bob Elphick award. In the video below, Hon Ms Roxon talks about the focus, dedication and attention to detail required to ensure Australia was successful as the first country to implement plain packaging, which has since set an example globally, saying;
‘I dreamt that it was possible, but we were really focused on making sure it was successfully implemented here, and then be able to be use as an example in other countries.’
Hon. Ms Nicola Roxon
ACOSH was represented by Maurice Swanson at a public hearing where he was joined by other health experts from the Australian Preventative Health Agency, the Cancer Council, Quit Australia, the National Heart Foundation and the Australian Health Department. For more information, read the Advisory Report on the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011.
A Post Implementation Review (PIR) of the plain packaging legislation by the Department of Health in 2016 estimated the 2012 packaging changes resulted in a statistically significant decline in the prevalence of smoking among Australians aged 14 years and over. The overall conclusion is that these measures have achieved their public health objectives of reducing smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke in Australia and are expected to continue to do so into the future.
As an advocacy organisation ACOSH remains vigilant to resistance from the industry on this legislation. The tobacco industry’s strong opposition to these laws are further proof of that they work.
You can find more information about the packaging and labelling of cigarettes at the Tobacco in Australia Facts & Issues website.
Products Under the Counter
Since September 2010, tobacco displays have been moved out of sight in retail stores across Western Australia. All other Australian states followed, committing to ending tobacco displays by January 2012.
Removing tobacco displays in retail settings helps prevent children taking up the harmful habit and removes a triggering reminder of smoking for people who have quit or are trying to quit smoking.
Increasing the price of cigarettes has proven to be the single most effective way to reduce the prevalence of smoking in the Australian population.
An increase in the cost of cigarettes in 2010 resulted in an 11% fall in tobacco use. On 1 December 2013, the tobacco excise was increased 12.5%, prompting an estimated 210,000 Australians to quit. The price was increased 12.5% every year for 3 years following this.
On 3 May 2016, the Federal Government announced four 12.5% annual increases, pushing the price of cigarettes to $40 a pack by 2020, duty free cigarette allowance to be cut from 50 to 25, extra funds to support defence of plain packaging in trade disputes and $7.7m to strengthen Border Force to tackle illicit tobacco.
However, in recent years a lag in increasing the cost of tobacco tax has resulted in the cost reducing when adjusted for inflation. For this reason, and to disincentivise people who are quitting vaping from moving over to traditional cigarettes, in 2023 the Federal Government announced tobacco taxes would be rising 5% each year over the next 3 years.
The Government also announced it would adjust the taxation of loose-leaf tobacco products (such as roll-your-own tobacco) to match the per-stick rate to ensure the excise rates on the various tobacco products are comparable.