Could a scheme for licensing smokers work in Australia?

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Medical Journal of Australia, 2013, 199 (3), pp. 181 - 184
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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.
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