Intended for healthcare professionals


Australian government attacked for tobacco funding

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 11 March 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:667
  1. Christopher Zinn
  1. Sydney

    The Australian Medical Association has used freedom of information laws to reveal that the federal government is granting research and development tax concessions to the tobacco industry worth up to $A500000 (£200000;$320000) a year.

    The association's federal president, Dr David Brand, called on the government to scrap the concessions and said that, whereas it was generously funding research to develop high tar cigarettes for Africa, spending on tobacco control in Australia was “miserly.”

    “It's just incredible that the government is helping improve a product that kills 18000 Australians a year and encouraging its export to third world countries,” he said.

    Documents released by the association, which it obtained under freedom of information legislation, give details of plans by the tobacco giant Philip Morris for numerous projects including the development of a longer and higher tar cigarette to satisfy the African market, which will be funded by the taxpayer.

    The applications, made to the government in 1997, also include plans for a new filter to improve “smoker satisfaction,” a small cigarette code-named “Mighty Mouse,” and a machine to make 5000 cigarettes a minute.

    The association said the government should redirect the tax concessions towards public health programmes. Whereas the federal and state governments earned $A4.5bn a year in taxes from smoking, they spent only $A10m on antitobacco campaigns.

    But the minister for industry, science and resources, Senator Nick Minchin, said that it was wrong to single out the tobacco industry and apply any morality or public interest test for tax breaks to what was still a legal product.

    “This is the first time I've heard it suggested that the government should discriminate against any industry that pays tax,” he said, adding that the tobacco industry paid huge amounts in tax and was entitled to the concessions.

    Cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris, which produces some of Australia's best selling brands, including Peter Jackson and Marlboro, said that from 1995 to 1998 it received $A1.3m from the government.

    Dr Brendan Nelson, a former president of the Australian Medical Association and now a backbench MP, said that there should be an immediate end to the funding.

    “There is no justification at all for giving away taxpayers' money for anything other than reducing tobacco consumption. If the government's got this cash to spend it should spend it on antismoking campaigns,” he said.

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    “Come Dancing,” a ballgown shimmering with 5500 contraceptive pills and an intrauterine device—medical alternatives offering a woman 22 years of birth control—is the centrepiece of a new London exhibition. “Pharmacopoeia,” artworks on a medical theme by Susie Freeman with Dr Liz Lee, is showing at Contemporary Applied Arts, 2 Percy Street, London W1P 9FA (020 7436 2344) until 15 April.