Structural elements in achieving legislative tobacco control in NSW, 1955-95: political reflections and implications.

31 October 2014

Objective: To analyse structural factors revealed by politicians that shaped legislation on tobacco control in New South Wales, 1955-1995. Methods: Parliamentary debates and other records were collected. Open-ended interviews were conducted with 17 of the Members of Parliament (MPs) and health advocates who were significantly involved, and analysed for structural elements. Results: Tobacco industry lobbying had a significant but limited influence on policymaking, being exerted largely through social interactions with executives and based on concerns for the economic impacts on third parties. MPs saw health advocates’ chief functions as (1) generating community concern about the issue and support for control measures, and (2) bringing any new information to political attention, providing pro-control arguments and data through the media. Factors that delayed tobacco control policies included: the conservative stance of Premiers and major parties, commitments to unanimous federal action, and rivalry between parties. Factors that facilitated control policies included: reforms that gave the Legislative Council increased power, the use of Parliamentary committees, and backbencher and grass roots support. Conclusions: Tobacco control policy and legislation has been the product of political structures that gave power to those MPs in the least powerful positions – minor parties, Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs), backbenchers, women and party rank and file – rather than to major parties and their executives. Implications: Advocates should make the most of their access points to the political process, providing information, arguments and support to interested backbenchers, party and parliamentary health committees, the health ministers’ conference, minor parties and independents, and demonstrating public opinion in favour of further control.