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Statement from Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper

Thursday 20 August, 2015


In response to today's story in The Age regarding the freedom of information application made on behalf of British American Tobacco to access survey data on the tobacco, alcohol and drug use of young people, I wish to reassure the community that we are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening.

Cancer Council Victoria has been involved in producing the Australian Secondary Students' Alcohol and Drug survey for the last 30 years. It is an important piece of public health research that is subject to ethics approval.

The survey collects information on student age, gender, indigenous status, postcode, school type (Government, Catholic or Independent), pocket money, self-assessment of academic achievement, and information on smoking and drinking practices, how children got access to cigarettes, brand preferences, and attitudes to smoking and drinking.

Schools, parents and children participate in the survey on the basis of confidentiality and we would consider it to be a breach of trust for Cancer Council Victoria to simply hand over the dataset to the applicant.

Given we know about 80 per cent of smokers start before the age of 18, the Cancer Council is also concerned the release of such sensitive information could provide valuable marketing intelligence that the tobacco industry would not be allowed to gather on its own. Such information could inform targeted pricing and marketing strategies designed to attract new customers.

The article in today's paper also highlights the importance of research integrity. Cancer Council Victoria is fortunate to have some of the world's leading researchers - their work is used and held in the highest scientific regard not only in Australia but globally.

Cancer Council research undergoes a rigorous process of independent expert review before it can be finally published in scientific journals, and this includes its research on the effectiveness of plain packaging. Cancer Council stands 100% behind its published research including recently released papers showing plain packaging of tobacco products is achieving its objectives.

Our mission at the Cancer Council is to reduce the impact of all cancer for all Victorians and to do so in the spirit of excellence, integrity and compassion. Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death in Australia, killing more than 14,000 people each year.

I believe that by opposing this application to access sensitive data about Victorian children, the Cancer Council is honouring our commitment to the community to reduce the impact of smoking-caused cancer.