Plea for tighter control on tobacco sales

Tighter restrictions on the availability of tobacco products are needed to further reduce the number of smokers, according to public health advocate Toby Dawson.

Mr Dawson, Cancer Council NSW regional manager, called for reforms to tobacco retailing on the 50th anniversary of the first US Surgeon-General's report which linked smoking with cancer.

The news that smoking caused cancer and death came as a bombshell to the public and the medical community in 1964.

Quit Victoria executive director Fiona Sharkie said the release of the report was a seminal moment in public health.

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"Back in 1964, more than half of Australian men and more than a quarter of Australian women smoked," she said.

"Within a few years, this landmark report prompted countries all over the world to take the first steps towards reducing the devastating harms caused by tobacco including broadcast bans and text health warnings."

Mr Dawson said that although Australia had come a significant way in the past 50 years in reducing the number of smokers, more work was needed to help people kick the habit.

Statistics from NSW Health revealed that 14.7 per cent of the state's population in 2011 was smoking.

"These kind of figures show that awareness campaigns are working and those awareness campaigns are purely based on the fact that the link between smoking and cancer exists," Mr Dawson said. "It also shows that government control strategies such as higher taxes, smoke-free environments and plain packaging are all working."

Mr Dawson said research had shown that people were more likely to smoke when there were more places to buy tobacco.

"The Cancer Council NSW has identified that there is a ridiculously high number of retail outlets which sell cigarettes within close proximity to schools," the campaigner said.

"So now we've got a bit more work to do to try and change that because the closer tobacco is available to schools the more likely it is that kids are going to access tobacco products," Mr Dawson said.

Targeted reforms to tobacco retailing could help the government reduce smoking rates in NSW by making it easier for people to quit for good, and by helping to stop young people taking up smoking, he said.

"We know that tobacco is one of the most readily available convenience products and it makes it more difficult for people who want to quit, when they walk into a supermarket, a pub, a bottle shop, a newsagent, a corner store, or a petrol station and see they can purchase tobacco."

Mr Dawson said governments needed to make more areas smoke-free.

He applauded Wollongong City Council for introducing smoke-free zones in Wollongong's revamped Crown Street Mall.

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