SMOKING rates in rural and remote Australia are still "disturbingly high", but the Rural Doctors Association of Australia believes new plain packaging laws were "more than just smoke and mirrors".
While a Commonwealth victory against the tobacco industry in the High Court last week has not guaranteed laws to enforce plain packaging on tobacco, it has been the strongest indication yet the laws will succeed.
The tobacco industry, including cigarette giants Phillip Morris and British American Tobacco, still has two other cases pending in Australian courts against the plain packaging laws.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon was last week celebrating the victory, saying the new packaging would have the biggest impact on new smokers and young people.
"If you're already a smoker plain packaging will just be a further reminder of the health risks of smoking," she said.
"Really this measure is most likely to have its impact on those who are new smokers."
Ms Roxon said young people were attracted to smoking because of an image cultivated that smoking was "cool".
"Or they can think it's fun or they can think it's sexy," she said.
"It's actually to try to take away any image and stop the cigarette pack being a mobile billboard every time a smoker pulls it out of their pocket.
"While smoking tobacco was a problem across the board, the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing showed it was still most prevalent among men, young people and those in rural, regional or remote areas.
In its 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, it revealed some 15.1% of Australians who smoked everyday, but that figure had declined 16.6% in 2007 and 24.3% in 1991.
The survey also showed smoking rates increased the further people lived from major cities, rising from 16.8% in cities to 19.9% in inner regional areas.
This figure kept rising, up to 20.7% of the total outer regional population, to 28.9% of the remote (or very remote) areas of the country.
While RDAA president Dr Paul Mara congratulated the government on its victory, there was still more to be done.
"Every day in our surgeries we see the terrible impact that smoking has on the health of our patients, and the devastating effect that lung cancer has on the families of its victims," Dr Mara said.
"Smoking rates in rural and remote Australia are still disturbingly high, and we welcome any move to help reduce the number of people suffering from nicotine addiction.
"This legislation is more than just smoke and mirrors.
"It will have positive outcomes that go beyond our borders and we are very happy to see the Australian government leading the way on this important issue."
Want to Quit Smoking? Go to quit.org.au or call the Quitline on 137 848.
Smoking rates by geography in Australia:
Major cities: 16.8% in 2010, down from 18% in 2007
Inner regional: 19.9% in 2010, down from 21.9% in 2007
Outer regional: 20.7% in 2010, down from 23% in 2007
Remote, very remote: 28.9% in 2010, up from 25% in 2007
SOURCE: National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 2010.
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