Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Tobacco costs more than illicit drugs

THE social costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs have been rising faster than inflation and, at more than $56 billion a year, outstrip the Federal Government's health budget.

Even though smoking rates are falling, the toll from tobacco accounts for more than half of all drug costs to the community, according to a report the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, is releasing today.

The three drug groups cause ill-health, accidents, premature death, crime and lost productivity with their cost easily exceeding the $45 billion the Federal Government spends on health.

Ms Roxon is expected to cite the huge costs identified in the government-commissioned report to promote the need for "cultural change" to counter unhealthy habits which trigger chronic disease.

Prepared by the Sydney academics Professors David Collins and Helen Lapsley, the report is the most comprehensive study on the social costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs in nearly a decade.

Based on the latest available data, covering 2004-05 it shows the real costs of tobacco are estimated to have jumped by 23.5 per cent to $31.5 billion in the six years to 2005.

The rise in the real costs of illicit drug use was less than half, at 11.3 per cent to $8.2 billion in the same period. Alcohol was estimated to generate $15.3 billion in social costs in 2005, but the growth in costs was not available because of statistical changes.

Although the number of smokers is falling, the delayed effects of past smoking means that costs have continued to rise.

At an Australian Institute of Health Policy Studies conference today Ms Roxon is expected to warn of the difficulties in bringing cultural change to habits like smoking and heavy drinking and to reorient health policy to focus more on prevention.

"This won't be simple, and it won't be quick. Cultural shifts are complex and difficult to achieve," she says.

The Government will soon announce a national preventive health taskforce whose priority targets will be obesity, tobacco and heavy drinking. The Government has already announced $50 million for three combat plans targeted at binge drinking.

What set the Rudd Government apart from its predecessors, she said, was the recognition that the rise of preventable chronic disease "also poses a front-line economic challenge".

The impact of poor health on workforce participation and productivity was something Australia could not afford at a time of skills shortages. Greater focus on prevention, not just in the health system but more broadly, would yield economic and other benefits.

The Government had commissioned Treasury to produce a report into the economic benefits of increased focus on illness prevention.

Future intergenerational reports would include an assessment of the impact of preventable chronic diseases and policies to combat them.

Yesterday Ms Roxon urged the pharmaceutical industry to engage "more fully" in the Government's health reform agenda.

She told a Medicines Australia meeting that both the recently appointed National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission and the proposed Preventive Health Taskforce would widely consult health and community groups. "I would encourage you to take full advantage of this consultation."


Parents of drunk children face fines
Nearly 1,700 children were treated in hospital for alcohol in the past year - some as young as 10.

Support for booze public education
A SURVEY of 1000 Australians found more than three-quarters of those questioned about attitudes to drinking said there was not enough public education about the dangers of alcohol, despite the Rudd Government's promise of a multimillion-dollar binge-drinking strategy.

Message on a bottle for binge drinkers
BOTTLES of alcoholic drinks could soon carry graphic pictures warning of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption as part of the Federal Government's latest series of measures to cut down on under-age and binge drinking.

No comments: