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High cost of smoking
The annual social cost of smoking in Victoria is almost $7 billion, according to a recent report. The research by Professor David Collins of Macquarie University and Professor Helen Lapsley of University of Queensland estimated the cost for the financial year 2008/09. Collins said despite the total social cost of smoking in Victoria declining, when adjusted for inflation, by more than 10 per cent since 1998/99, smoking still cost the Victorian community $6.8 billion every year. “As the lagged effects of past smoking work their way through the system and smoking rates continue to decline, real smoking costs will eventually start to fall but the social costs of smoking remain high in Victoria. This result shows efforts to reduce smoking should not be relaxed,” said Lapsley. Executive director of Quit Victoria Fiona Sharkie said the report clearly illustrated the continuing need to invest in anti-smoking programs. “If smoking rates decline even 1 to 2 per cent further, the value of the social return would be about $1.8 billion. This is in addition to reducing the immeasurable and devastating toll of tobacco on those families who may have lost a loved one due to a preventable smoking-caused disease.” AAP

Call for HPV vaccine for boys
The federal government's pharmaceuticals advisory body has recommended that the anti-cancer and wart drug Gardasil be approved for a national immunisation program for teenage boys. Gardasil currently has government funding approval for a national vaccination program for girls aged 12 to 13. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee recommended Gardasil be approved for vaccination of boys aged 12 to 13, plus a two-year catch-up program covering boys in year 9. A Department of Health and Ageing spokeswoman said there were a number of steps, including a pricing agreement and supply guarantee, before the government could consider the funding recommendation. Studies confirm that, compared with women, men of all ages know far less about HPV and the benefits of an HPV vaccination for them, said Professor Marian Pitts of La Trobe University. “Most people now know that HPV is a major cause of cervical cancer, but few realise the virus can affect other sites, including the ano-genital tract and cancers of the head and neck,” Pitts said. “There has been a rapid increase world-wide in the incidence of cancers in the head and neck, most especially oropharyngeal (tonsils and tongue) cancers.”

Big changes for WA mental health
Western Australia will get a new mental health advocacy service, headed by a chief advocate, and a mental health tribunal under sweeping changes to the state’s mental health framework. The Health Minister Kim Hames said the new Mental Health Bill would have a significant impact for people who come into contact with the mental health system. The proposed changes include a new Mental Health Advocacy Service, currently the Council of Official Visitors, headed by a full-time Chief Mental Health Advocate who will be required to contact every involuntary patient within seven days. A Mental Health Tribunal will replace the existing Mental Health Review Board to independently review involuntary treatment orders to ensure every involuntary patient has an individual treatment, support and discharge plan. The use of electroconvulsive therapy on involuntary patients will be prohibited without approval by the tribunal, except in urgent situations. Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said releasing the draft bill for public comment prior to introducing it to Parliament would help ensure the legislation reflects the aspirations of the community. "The appointment of a Minister for Mental Health, the establishment of Australia's first Mental Health Commission, and the release of the Mental Health 2020 strategic policy provide the foundation for a responsive system that delivers real outcomes for all West Australians,” she said. There will be consultation on the draft bill until March 2012.

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