Public health experts in New South Wales have a strong message for the next state government: they are sidelining industry interests and protecting the health of the public.
On Monday, the NSW branch of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) unveiled its Vote for Public Health campaign ahead of the state elections in March.
The campaign highlights five priorities that will ease the strain on the state’s healthcare system and keep people healthy and out of the hospital.
The five public health problems outlined in the election platform come with evidence-based solutions, PHAA NSW President Kate McBride said.
The five public health priorities are:
- Protect young people from the harms of vaping
- Remove junk food ads on state properties to promote healthy weight in children
- Minimize the damage of gambling
- Take bold action against climate change by banning new coal and gas mines and banning expansions
- Make prevention a priority for the health system.
“The gambling, vaping and unhealthy food and drink industries continue to benefit from destroying the health and livelihoods of adults and children in NSW, but the new government can stop this damage with targeted action,” said Dr. McBride.
Ahead of the March 25 election, the NSW PHAA will review and score major party policies against its own to help people decide who to vote for.
Vaping and youth
Dr. McBride said vaping among 15- to 24-year-olds has more than doubled in the past two years. A survey last year found that one in three teens had vaped in the past.
“We must act now and make it an offense to supply or sell nicotine-free e-cigarettes to protect children and young people from the risk of smoking,” she said.
It is illegal in Australia to sell nicotine e-cigarettes without a prescription, but it is legal to sell e-cigarettes without nicotine.
However, e-cigarettes, or vaping, that falsely claim to contain no nicotine are “hampering” NSW’s enforcement efforts, PHAA said.
The campaign’s solution is to put more pressure on the federal government to “strengthen its enforcement action to intercept illegally imported vapor products.”
Dr. McBride said NSW is Australia’s gambling capital and is wreaking havoc on families.
“The next government should introduce a universal cashless card system with upper limits, a one-button self-exclusion mechanism, and enforce a ban on commissions and advertising,” she said.
Issuing a pre-commitment cashless card system — plus regulations and legislation to ban advertising and other incentives — could keep gambling and money laundering in check, PHAA NSW said.
“To support this policy, we call on all political parties to reject pre-election agreements with the gaming industry,” the organization’s Advocacy Platform document said.
Ban junk food advertising
PHAA NSW is calling for the new government to ban advertisements for unhealthy food and beverages on assets owned or controlled by the government.
“NSW PHAA, along with 13 health organizations and individuals, support the NSW Cancer Council in its 2022 Joint Statement calling on the next NSW Government to show leadership by restricting unhealthy food and drink advertising on state-controlled assets, starting by public transport,” it said. .
NSW PHAA noted that the The World Cancer Research Fund and the World Health Organization recommend reducing children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing.
London, the ACT and Amsterdam had a legal ban on advertising unhealthy food and drink on government properties.
Action against climate change
NSW PHAA is calling for the new government to work to reduce climate-related damage to public health.
“Climate-induced flooding and wildfires pose serious risk to NSW communities, economy and environment,” said NSW PHAA.
“Unless decisive action is taken now, these problems will deepen existing inequalities and further marginalize the most vulnerable.”
Public health experts not only want new and expansions of coal and gas mines banned, they also want a NSW-focused health and climate summit to watch”actions that protect health and safety in workplaces, neighborhoods and communities”.
Health prevention boost
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed “manifest flaws in our health system” and the NSW PHAA wants the new government to commit to expanding and diversifying the public health workforce to promote prevention efforts.
“Thirty-eight percent of disease, illness and early deaths are preventable, along with one in 10 hospitalization days,” the NSW PHAA said.
“This unfairly affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people experiencing economic and social challenges, women and children. NSW has a world-class health system, but it is under pressure.”
Dr. McBride said more than a third of Australia’s illnesses, conditions and early deaths are preventable.
“We need to invest significantly in preventive health interventions to alleviate the enormous strain on the NSW health system,” she said.
The NSW PHAA is calling on the next government to expand and diversify the public health workforce and calls for the development of a strategy “to embed prevention across all health sectors of NSW”.