Law professor adds support to proposed smart-card licences for smokers

6 August 2013

Professor Roger Magnusson from Sydney Law School has added impetus to calls for a smart-card based licensing system for adult smokers, in a commentary published in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA).

Co-authored by Cancer Institute NSW Chief Executive Officer David Curnow, the commentary suggests issuing adult smokers with a smart-card "licence" may help reduce unlawful tobacco sales to children - thereby reducing the uptake of smoking - and help adult smokers quit.

Professor Magnusson and Professor Curnow's article builds on The Case for a Smoker's Licence, written by Professor Simon Chapman from the School of Public Health and published in PLOS Medicine last year.

Although the sale of tobacco to anyone under 18 is illegal throughout Australia, almost 4 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 years smoke. Daily smoking rates among those over 14 halved from 30 percent to 15 percent between 1985 and 2010 but there are still around 2.8 million daily smokers in Australia, with deaths from smoking continuing to exceed deaths from alcohol and illicit drugs combined.

"A smoker's licence could be an important next step for reducing smoking rates," say Professors Magnusson and Curnow in Could a scheme for licensing smokers work in Australia, published by the MJA yesterday.

"The requirement for adults to present a licence when purchasing tobacco is a demand-side response that would complement supply-side controls, since it would enable health departments to audit tobacco retailers at any time.

"Monitoring of smokers' purchases will enable health authorities to detect patterns and variations in smokers' behaviour and to develop more sophisticated individualised communications to assist smokers to quit."

The professors go on to identify advantages and disadvantages of certain features of a smokers' licence as proposed by Professor Chapman in his PLOS Medicine paper including: categorising licences according to smoking intensity, including purchase limits, gradually increasing the minimum purchasing age, and requiring adults to pass a knowledge test about the risks of smoking in order to qualify for a licence.

"In our view, a smoker licensing scheme needs to be as simple as possible and focus on two clear goals: to reduce unacceptably rates of unlawful tobacco sales to children; and to make intelligent use of information about smokers' purchases to help adult smokers quit," they say.

The commentary also suggests Australia should follow the United States by largely making tobacco products non-mailable.

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