In this article, we evaluate the possible advantages and disadvantages of a licensing scheme that would require adult smokers to verify their right to purchase tobacco products at point of sale using a smart-card licence.
A survey of Australian secondary school students conducted in 2011 found that half of 17-year-old smokers and one-fifth of 12-year-old smokers believed it was “easy” or “very easy” to purchase cigarettes themselves. Reducing tobacco use by adolescents now is central to the future course of the current epidemic of tobacco-caused disease, since most current adult smokers began to smoke as adolescents — at a time when they were unable to purchase tobacco lawfully. The requirement for cigarette retailers to reconcile all stock purchased from wholesalers against a digital record of retail sales to licensed smokers would create a robust incentive for retailers to comply with laws that prohibit tobacco sales to children.
Foreseeable objections to introducing a smokers licence need to be taken into account, but once we move beyond the “shock of the new”, it is difficult to identify anything about a smokers licence that is particularly offensive or demeaning. A smoker licensing scheme deserves serious consideration for its potential to dramatically curtail retailers’ violation of the law against selling tobacco to minors, to impose stricter accountability for sale of a uniquely harmful drug and to allow intelligent use of information about smokers’ purchases to help smokers quit.
- 1. Chapman S. The case for a smoker’s license. PLOS Med 2012; 9: e1001342. http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001342 (accessed Jun 2013).
- 2. Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008 (NSW) ss. 22-25.
- 3. Baker F, Ainsworth SR, Dye JT, et al. Health risks associated with cigar smoking. JAMA 2000; 284: 735-740.
- 4. Henley SJ, Thun MJ, Chao A, Calle EE. Association between exclusive pipe smoking and mortality from cancer and other diseases. J Natl Cancer Inst 2004; 96: 853-861.
- 5. WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation (TobReg). Waterpipe tobacco smoking: health effects, research needs and recommended actions by regulators. TobReg advisory note. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2005. http://www.who.int/tobacco/global_interaction/tobreg/waterpipe/en (accessed Jun 2013).
- 6. Oakes W, Chapman S, Borland R, et al. “Bulletproof skeptics in life’s jungle”: which self-exempting beliefs about smoking most predict lack of progression towards quitting? Prev Med 2004; 39: 776-782.
- 7. Pou v British American Tobacco (New Zealand) Ltd, High Court of New Zealand, Lang J, 3 May 2006, 346 and ff. Unsuccessful claim. http://www.nzlii.org/nz/cases/NZHC/2006/451.html (accessed Jul 2013)
- 8. McTear v Imperial Tobacco Ltd  Scot CS CSOH_69 (31 May 2005), [7.175]-[7.181]. .http://www.bailii.org/scot/cases/ScotCS/2005/CSOH_69.html (accessed Jun 2013).
- 9. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey report. Canberra: AIHW, 2011. (AIHW Cat. No. PHE 145; Drug Statistics Series No. 25.) http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=32212254712 (accessed Jun 2013).
- 10. White V, Bariola E. Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2011. Report prepared for Drug Strategy Branch, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. http://www. nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/Publishing.nsf/content/school11 (accessed Jun 2013).
- 11. The Allen Consulting Group. Licensing of tobacco retailers and wholesalers: desirability and best practice arrangements. December 2002. Report to the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco-res-license (accessed Jun 2013).
- 12. Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act of 2009 (PACT Act). PL. 111-154. http://www.gpo. gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ154/content-detail.html (accessed Jun 2013).
- 13. National Preventative Health Taskforce. Australia: the healthiest country by 2020. Technical report 2. Tobacco control in Australia: making smoking history. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2009. http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/tech-tobacco (accessed Jun 2013).
- 14. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia’s health 2012. Canberra: AIHW, 2012. (AIHW Cat. No. AUS 156; Australia’s Health Series No. 13.) http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=10737422172 (accessed Jun 2013).
- 15. Centre for Epidemiology and Research. New South Wales Population Health Survey. 2008 Report on adult health. Sydney: NSW Department of Health, 2009. http://www. health.nsw.gov.au/publichealth/surveys/hsa/08.asp (accessed Jun 2013).
- 16. Fong GT, Hammond D, Laux FL, et al. The near-universal experience of regret among smokers in four countries: findings from the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Survey. Nicotine Tob Res 2004; 6 Suppl 3: S341-S351.
- 17. McCarthy M, Scully M, Wakefield M. Price discounting of cigarettes in milk bars near secondary schools occurs more frequently in areas with greater socioeconomic disadvantage. Aust N Z J Public Health 2011; 35: 71-74.
- 18. Magnusson R. Using a legal and regulatory framework to identify and evaluate priorities for cancer prevention. Public Health 2011; 125: 854-875.
- 19. Federal Trade Commission. Cigarette report for 2009 and 2010. http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2012/09/tobacco.shtm (accessed Jun 2013).
- 20. Pierce JP, Gilmer TP, Lee L, et al. Tobacco industry price-subsidizing promotions may overcome the downward pressure of higher prices on initiation of regular smoking. Health Econ 2005; 14: 1061-1071.
- 21. Peto R, Lopez AD. Future worldwide health effects of current smoking patterns. In: Koop CE, Pearson CE, Schwarz MR, editors. Critical issues in global health. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001: 154-161.
- 22. How do you sleep at night, Mr Blair [editorial]? Lancet 2003; 362: 1865.
- 23. Flybuys (Australia). Website. https://www.flybuys.com.au/export/sites/default/flybuys/content/information/mediacentre/FlyBuysFastFacts.pdf (accessed Jul 2013).
- 24. Collin J. The case against a smoker’s license. PLOS Med 2012; 9: e1001343.
- 25. Sugarman SD. A balanced tobacco control policy. Am J Public Health 2003; 93: 416-418.
- 26. Mitchell AD, Studdert DM. Plain packaging of tobacco products in Australia: a novel regulation faces legal challenge. JAMA 2012; 307: 261-262.
- 27. Currow DC, Dessaix A. Plain packaging for tobacco products. BMJ 2011; 343: d5693.
- 28. National Preventative Health Taskforce. Australia: the healthiest country by 2020. National Preventative Health Strategy – the roadmap for action. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2009. http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/nphs-roadmap (accessed Jun 2013).
- 29. Kite J, Rissel C, Greenaway M, Williams K. Tobacco outlet density and social disadvantage in New South Wales, Australia. Tob Control 2012; 14 Dec. [Epub ahead of print.] doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2012-050648.
- 30. Wood LJ, Pereira G, Middleton N, Foster S. Socioeconomic area disparities in tobacco retail outlet density: a Western Australian analysis. Med J Aust 2013; 198: 489-491. <MJA full text>
- 31. Henriksen L, Feighery EC, Schleicher NC, et al. Is adolescent smoking related to density and proximity of tobacco outlets and retail cigarette advertising near schools? Prev Med 2008; 47: 210-214.
- 32. Perez DA, Grunseit AC, Rissel C, et al. Tobacco promotion ‘below-the-line’: exposure among adolescents and young adults in NSW, Australia. BMC Public Health 2012; 12: 429.
- 33. Miura M, Berman M, Dodds W. Tobacco retail licensing: local regulation of the number, location, and type off tobacco retail establishments in New York. Boston: Center for Public Health and Tobacco Policy at New York Law, October 2010. http://www. tobaccopolicycenter.org/documents/Licensing%20Report%20UPDATED% 205-4-12%20with%20cover%20template.pdf (accessed Jun 2013).
- 34. Loomis BR, Kim AE, Goetz JL, Juster HR. Density of tobacco retailers and its association with sociodemographic characteristics of communities across New York. Public Health 2013; 127: 333-338.
- 35. Jha P. Avoidable global cancer deaths and total deaths from smoking. Nat Rev Cancer 2009; 9: 655-664.
Publication of your online response is subject to the Medical Journal of Australia's editorial discretion. You will be notified by email within five working days should your response be accepted.