The Government has urged the Opposition to stop accepting donations from tobacco companies and get behind its push for plain packaging of tobacco. But Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says the plain packaging idea is “flawed” and could be counterproductive.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon says Labor stopped taking donations from tobacco companies in 2004 – since then the Opposition has accepted $1.7 million.
“Mr Abbott needs to kick his habit,” Ms Roxon said in a statement.
“As a former health minister, Mr Abbott knows that tobacco kills 15,000 Australians each year – a tragic number that brings suffering to families all over Australia.
“Accepting donations from big tobacco is just not acceptable, given we know how dangerous these products are and to what low levels these companies will stoop to keep killing Australians.”
Mr Abbott brushed aside questions about tobacco industry donations, saying the Government was trying to distract people from more important issues.
“I think the Labor Party is trying to change the subject from the carbon tax. I think that’s what they’re trying to do,” he told a press conference in Melbourne.
“We are happy to support policy that can be demonstrated to work, and it’s up to the Government to show why they think this policy is going to work.”
He earlier defended his record on tobacco as health minister, saying he took “a lot of measures” to encourage people to quit.
“We put graphic warnings on cigarette packets and got the smoking rate down from 21 per cent to 17 per cent,” he told ABC radio.
He said the Government’s plain packaging plan is flawed.
“My fear about this is that it will turn out to be counter-productive like so much this government does,” he said.
Public consultation for the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 concludes on June 6. The Government is aiming to have the Bill introduced during the winter sitting.