More Canberra public spaces on smoking ban hit list

Smoking could soon be banned in more of Canberra's public spaces, with Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris focussed on having some of the toughest laws in the country.

It comes as a North Sydney council considers banning smoking in all public spaces, which would make it the first smoke-free municipality in the country.

Smoking could be banned in more Canberra public places.

Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

While smoking is already banned in children's play areas and at public transport waiting areas, Ms Fitzharris said more public areas could become smoke free, while the government would also look into raising the smoking age to 21.

The government will finalise the Drug Strategy Action Plan later in the year which is currently up for public consultation.

The plan aims to stem the smoking rates in the ACT - especially among high risks groups - and reduce people's exposure to second hand smoke.

The ACT currently has the lowest smoking rate in the country at 9.5 per cent, but is still a leading contributor to death.

"We can’t become complacent," Ms Fitzharris said.

"As Minister for Health and Wellbeing, my aim is to have some of the strongest regulations to manage smoking in the country here in the ACT so we can continue to improve and stop people dying from smoking-related illnesses."

Ms Fitzharris said there were pockets in the ACT where smoking remained stubbornly high.

"These are generally people who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, people with a mental illness, people with other drug or alcohol dependencies, imprisoned people and the homeless," she said.

"In addition, across Australia, people who have migrated from countries with high smoking rates and those who identify as LGBTI are also much more likely to smoke.

"The ACT Government will look at what is being proposed in North Sydney and the outcomes of their community consultation, to see if there lessons we can learn for public spaces in Canberra."

Government surveys have shown 70 per cent of Canberrans support making it hard to buy tobacco products, while two-thirds supported raising the legal age of tobacco to 21.

Ms Fitzharris said she was taking a "precautionary" approach to vaping, considering the scientific uncertainty about its harm

"I was particularly alarmed earlier this year when Senators Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz, ignoring expert health advice, promoted e-cigarettes as a ‘safe way of getting a nicotine hit’," she said.

"This was misguided and harmful, and shows a complete lack of understanding of what we are trying to do, which is stop people from taking up smoking in the first place, and stop people modelling smoking behaviours to children."

In its submission to the draft Drug Strategy Action Plan, the ACT's peak drug body, Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT, said there needed to be more government action around treatment and harm reduction strategies.

The association suggested developing a specialist nicotine dependence treatment service for the ACT, in particular for disadvantaged, hard to reach communities with higher smoking rates.

"The expert consensus is that disadvantaged hard-to-reach subpopulations with higher smoking rates require additional, and more sophisticated, targeted and sustained tobacco treatment strategies," the submission read.

The government has steadily introduced laws banning smoking in certain public areas in recent years.

In March 2016, laws were introduced to allow the minister to establish new smoke-free public places and events.

In September that same year,  play spaces managed by the ACT Government were declared smoke and vape free.

While in October last year smoking or vaping in public transport waiting areas was banned. 

Smoking is also banned at all hospitals and ACT Health facilities, government schools, all universities and GIO Stadium and Manuka Oval.

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