Tomorrow night (March 9), the Sydney Morning Herald is convening a forum, to be held at the University of NSW, to canvass a vision for Sydney’s health.

Presumably it’s election-related, so it is disappointing that it is narrowly focused on the health of those living in Sydney rather than the broader NSW population.  At least that’s how it has been headlined in the promotional material as per here, here, here, and here.

To be moderated by the SMH Health Editor, Julie Robotham, the speakers include the Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt, and her Opposition and Greens counterparts, as well as Westmead Hospital neurosurgeon Associate Professor Brian Owler, Professor Christine Duffield, Professor of Nursing at the Centre for Health Services Management, UTS, and Professor Ian Hickie, Professor of Psychiatry, Brain & Mind Research Institute, the University of Sydney.

If any Croakey contributors or readers  plan to attend and are interested in doing a short report for this blog, please let me know.

Meanwhile, Anita Tang, Manager of Policy and Advocacy at Cancer Council NSW, writes below that tobacco reform has much to offer politicians seeking votes in the NSW election.

Are our state politicians blind to opportunity?

Anita Tang writes:

Imagine if politicians could find an issue that had the support of over nine out of ten voters in their constituency. And what if it was an issue that was supported by voters of all ages, income levels and by those who live in Sydney and elsewhere in NSW?

With a State election looming in NSW, we have seen promises and commitments from major parties being issued daily, with a clear pitch being made to different segments of voters. Most policies and promises seem to assume that voters need to be divided into categories of interest such as commuters, parents, and business people, and enticed accordingly.

The reality is that many election promises can be complex to deliver, take years before the public benefit is felt and involve costly expenditure.

Yet, new data reveals some issues cut across these problems and have broad community support. A Newspoll survey commissioned by Cancer Council NSW and the National Heart Foundation (NSW) found overwhelming support from NSW voters for recent changes to tobacco laws and a clear appetite for further reform.

An astonishing 96 per cent of voters support laws banning smoking in children’s playgrounds. It is hard to imagine any other single health promoting measure that enjoys such high levels of support.

More than eight out of ten voters would support banning smoking in outdoor eating areas and near entrances of public buildings. And unlike many other election promises, each of these tobacco reforms would be legislatively simple, deliver immediate public benefits, and involve negligible costs.

If anyone is worried that these results smack of a community out to persecute and badger smokers, they may be surprised to find that 90 per cent of voters think the Government should provide more services to help people quit. This shows a community understanding that smokers need assistance, while also wanting to be protected from second-hand smoke.

Over recent years, the State has introduced some laws that would have been considered heretical by some even 10 years ago. These include banning smoking in cars carrying children under 16 years and banning smoking inside pubs and clubs. When these measures were under public consideration, there were cries of ‘nanny-state’ and smoker’s rights, and economic doom and gloom for the pubs and clubs (some may remember that the Australian Hotels Association and Clubs NSW were the loudest in these cries).

The Government of the day pressed on nonetheless, bolstered by the strong evidence about the harm from second-hand smoke, the absence of evidence about economic harm, and a sense of duty to protect public health. Back in 2004, public support for banning smoking in cars carrying children and for banning smoking in pubs and clubs was at 16 per cent  and 72 per cent respectively.

This week’s survey found that over nine out of ten voters support these measures. All Parliamentarians will be pleased to see that even where a sector seeks to create controversy around an issue, community support strengthens in line with public policy initiatives.

Community attitudes to second-hand smoke are changing rapidly. Voters of all types are ready for laws that would protect people from toxic second-hand smoke in public places.

Let’s hope politicians open their eyes and seize this opportunity to adopt a measure that the overwhelming majority of voters would welcome.

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