SA-Best leader Nick Xenophon has pledged to raise the legal smoking age if his party wins the balance of power at the upcoming state election.
The proposed changes to increase the age from 18 to 21 would save South Australia $220 million over the next decade, Mr Xenophon said.
“This will save lives and precious dollars which could be used elsewhere. The time has come for this happen and many people will be asking why it didn’t happen sooner,” he said.
The former South Australian senator said he will begin releasing a suite of health policies this week, ahead of the March 17 state election.
Mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest in October challenged South Australia’s political leaders to raise the smoking age as a precursor to a national shift.
Mr Xenophon told The Advertiser he was backing the push, and would make it a key negotiating point should he have the power to decide who forms minority government.
“This will save lives and precious health dollars, which can be used elsewhere,” he was quoted as saying.
“Its time has come – lots of people will be asking why we didn’t do it earlier.
“The research shows this will significantly reduce the uptake of cigarettes among young people and have lifelong benefits. We need to stand up to big tobacco.”
Mr Xenophon’s pledge comes as cancer specialists across the country have called for a nationwide change.
The Medical Oncology Group of Australia and the Private Cancer Physicians of Australia want the legal age in Australia raised from the current 18.
“We know from research that 95 per cent of all adults start smoking before they turn 21, MOGA chair Chris Karapetis said.
“We also know if you can prevent young people from taking up the deadly habit by the time they turn 21, the chances of them ever smoking at all is very low”.
Christopher Steer, head of the Private Cancer Physicians of Australia, says smoking rates among disadvantaged youth is alarmingly high, and significantly higher in regional Australia than in the cities.
According to government figures, 15,000 Australians die from smoking-related illnesses every year.
“Smoking is the most preventable cause of cancer in Australia,” said Dr Karapetis.
South Australia’s Health Minister Peter Malinauskas said his party was willing to look at any “evidence-based” measures to decrease the uptake of smoking.
“We have stated we are willing to contemplate any legislative reform that will see a reduction in smoking,” Mr Malinauskas told ABC Radio.
The Liberal opposition is also willing to look at the policy, but health spokesman Stephen Wade said the reasons for people taking up smoking were complex.
“It is very important to remember the legal age to buy cigarettes is only one of the factors,” Mr Wade said.
– With AAP