Western Australia’s efforts to reduce young people’s access to tobacco products in the early 1990’s represented one of the first comprehensive approaches in Australia to dealing with this issue. This approach involves the voluntary support and cooperation of health and regulatory authorities and community organisations in order to achieve broad compliance with the requirements of the Tobacco Control Act 1990. The Health Department of Western Australia (HDWA), through the Smoking and Health Program, adopts a comprehensive, state-wide approach which includes retailer and public education strategies, combined with highlighting prosecutions to deter retailers from selling tobacco products to young people.
It has been an offence to sell tobacco to young people in Western Australia since 1917. However, until the passage of the Tobacco Control Act 1990, the practise of selling tobacco to persons under 18 years of age was widespread, the penalty for such offences was very small, and there were no recorded prosecutions.
The Tobacco Control Act 1990 bans the sale or supply of tobacco to a person under 18 years of age. The Act also makes it an offence to permit minors to obtain cigarettes from tobacco vending machines. Penalties for the sale or supply of tobacco to minors range from a maximum of $5,000 for an individual to $20,000 for a corporate body. The maximum penalty doubles for subsequent offences.
Retailer education helps raise awareness of the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) 1990 and retailers’ responsibilities under the Act and encourages compliance with the Act. The HDWA considers retailer education an important component of its legislative program. Education and training on the Act is done in conjunction with the inspection of retail outlets for compliance with the Act.
Education and training
The Department also produces and distributes a range of information materials, signs and stickers on the Act to retailers; advertorials and advertisements are placed in trade journals from time to time; and the department liaises with the tobacco and retail industries on a regular basis to ensure up-to-date knowledge and understanding of the Act and to resolve issues concerning the application of the Act.
Community involvement is essential to the effectiveness of strategies for reducing the availability of tobacco to young people. Community support for such measures has been consistently high. Ninety-five per cent of respondents in the 1993 and 1995 National Drug Strategy Household Surveys supported measures to restrict the availability of tobacco to young people.
As a means of maintaining community awareness and support for measures to restrict the availability of tobacco to young people, the Department has also produced a community action guide, entitled Choke the Supply for the use of parents, schools and community groups. Tobacco and youth smoking issues are covered in community drug education programs conducted by the Department; and the Department publishes articles on tobacco and youth smoking issues in school health journals and community newspapers from time to time.
The HDWA’s approach to enforcement is both proactive and reactive. As a proactive measure, routine inspections of retail outlets are conducted by the Department’s investigative staff to check compliance with the Act. Inspections also provide an opportunity for retailers to discuss issues relating to the application of the Act with departmental representatives. Information collected during inspections is entered on to the Tobacco Act Monitoring System (TAMS) database. The database contains the details of retail outlets, including information relating to breaches of the Tobacco Control Act 1990 detected during inspections of retail outlets as well as complaint, surveillance and prosecution outcomes.
Monitoring and enforcement
More cordial and cooperative relationships with tobacco retailers have developed over time as a result of regular contact with retailers. Retailers are more aware and understanding of the department’s role in monitoring and enforcing the Tobacco Control Act 1990, are more likely to contact the department if they have inquiries concerning the application of the Act, and in some instances, will report potential breaches of the Act to the department. The department also responds to complaints from parents, schools and community members concerned about the selling practices of retailers in their local area.
In Western Australia there are over 4,000 tobacco retail outlets dispersed throughout a vast state. Consequently, the support of other regulatory authorities and regional health authorities is vital to ensure effective enforcement of the Act throughout the state as the HDWA’s resources are limited. All regional health authorities throughout the state have established programs to reduce the availability of tobacco to young people in their communities. The Department has also fostered alliances with Police Services and local government authorities.
Fostering of key alliances
Monitoring and enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act 1990 includes prosecution for breaches of the Act. The HDWA also issues media releases publicising successful prosecutions. The media releases achieve a number of purposes: they raise awareness of the Tobacco Control Act 1990 and the Health Department’s role in its enforcement; they remind retailers that the risk of prosecution for the sale or supply of tobacco to minors is high and that the penalties are substantial; they reinforce community feeling concerning the seriousness of sales to minors offences and they encourage media coverage of the issue.
Research and evaluation conducted by the HDWA include biennial retailer compliance surveys and triennial surveys of tobacco consumption by school students aged 12 to 17 years. Retailer compliance surveys have been conducted since 1992.
Research and evaluation
The surveys show that there has been a 78 per cent reduction in the willingness of retailers to sell tobacco to young people since 1992 (down from 89 per cent in 1992 to 20 per cent in 1996).
Secondary school student tobacco consumption surveys have been conducted since 1984. The surveys provide data on prevalence, consumption and knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about smoking. The surveys also provide information on availability and ease of access to tobacco for young people.
Metropolitan compliance monitoring surveys have found that the compliance rates of retailers have risen from 19 per cent in 1992 to 72 per cent in 1998. Surveys have also been conducted in regional areas and have reported a range from 100 per cent compliance of retailers in some areas to 15 per cent in other areas, with an average compliance rate of around 75 per cent for all regional areas.
The Western Australian Smoking and Health Program has achieved:
- 50 prosecutions of retailers for selling to young people;
- 7 prosecutions of members of the public for supplying to young people; and
- fines for the sale or supply of tobacco to minors have increased from $50 to $2,500.
Of these 57 prosecutions, about 20 per cent have been initiated by Police Officers with the remaining being initiated by investigating officers from the Health Department of Western Australia.
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