“Retailers who sell deadly products should pay a price”: Research prompts calls to introduce tobacco retailer licensing fees in NSW

Public Health Association of Australia (NSW) and Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health

New research has prompted public health experts to call on the NSW Government to introduce tighter tobacco retail regulation and annual tobacco retailer licence fees to help continue to drive down smoking rates.

Across the country there are a mishmash of licensing laws applied to retailers wishing to sell tobacco, also with varying fees. In NSW, there is no positive licensing scheme in place with retailers only having to notify Government once if they intend to sell tobacco, with no fees attached.

A new article published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health looks at the impact of significant changes to tobacco licensing introduced in SA in January 2007, when the annual cost of retail tobacco licences rose 15-fold from $12.90 to $200. It builds on prior research that showed that the initial fee increase led to an almost 24 percent decrease in the number of tobacco retailers within two years.

Co-author Professor Caroline Miller, Director of Health Policy at the South Australia Medical Health Research Institute (SAHMRI), says the latest analysis of what happened in SA between 2009 and 2020 shows large fees are needed to prompt retailers to re-evaluate their selling of tobacco.

“Since 2007, the fee in SA has only gradually been increased in line with indexation,” Prof Miller says.

“In the latest analysis, we found that the number of licences has continued to fall from 2,707 in 2009 to 1,810 in 2020, a 33 percent decline over 11 years. However, this is only an incremental change. The research suggests significant fee introductions or hikes help prompt retailers to reevaluate being in the unethical business of tobacco.”

Ms Anita Dessaix, Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) NSW Spokesperson and Director, Cancer Prevention and Advocacy at Cancer Council NSW says it’s extremely disappointing and concerning that NSW lags behind most other states that have a higher standard of tobacco licensing.

“It’s ridiculous that in NSW retailers only have to notify Government if they are intending to sell tobacco, a product that if used as intended kills, while nearly all other states have licensing schemes with yearly fees attached.

“Tobacco is still the leading preventable cause of death and disability in NSW, and the social costs of smoking have been estimated at about $8.4billion. In NSW around 6,700 deaths and more than 62,900 hopsitalisations were attributed to smoking. NSW retailers who sell these deadly products get off scot-free, without paying a licensing fee, while people who smoke pay the ultimate price with their health or life.

“Tobacco is sold in most supermarkets, in corner stores, petrol stations and tobacconists across the state – undermining NSW residents genuine attempts to quit. A positive licensing scheme could instead help fund compliance and enforcement efforts, as well as broader efforts to encourage and support people to quit.

“While current smoking among across the NSW adult population has steadily declined over the past 20 years and is now sitting at 11.4%, among the most disadvantaged quintile current smoking is significantly higher at 19.4%.

“To help drive down smoking rates in NSW the Government needs to ask themselves – are we doing all we can? It’s time to put tobacco retailer licensing on the radar.”

The Public Health Association of Australia is calling on all Governments to adopt a higher standard of licensing laws, including higher licensing fees, across the country to help drive down smoking rates.

The Federal Government has committed to a target of decreasing smoking rates to below 10% by 2025, and to 5% or less by 2030.The National Tobacco Strategy has a number of actions relating to licensing, including considering restricting or prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in premises where alcohol is consumed, including vending machines; banning or restricting the sale of tobacco online and through smartphone applications; and considering a framework for a national licensing scheme, but these strategies are yet to be funded or implemented.

/Public Release.