SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Australia will move on Wednesday to restrict internet tobacco advertising, preventing retailers from promoting cheap or tax free cigarettes, as part of a campaign to cut smoking rates by 10 percent by 2018.
Young Australians, aged 24-29, currently have the highest rate of smoking among Australians, who currently have a nearly 20 percent rate of smoking overall.
Australia has some of the world's toughest tobacco advertising restrictions and already bans advertising on television and radio, in newspapers and magazines, and at sporting events.
Retailers are prohibited from displaying cigarette packets in shops and cigarette packets carry graphic images of cancer and a health warning that smoking causes cancer.
"Prohibiting retailers from peddling cigarettes as 'cheap' or 'tax-free' on the internet is the latest step in the...government's hard hitting and comprehensive action to reduce Australia's smoking rates," Health Minister Nicola Roxon said in announcing the new legislation to go to parliament.
"Together with our efforts to mandate the plain packaging of tobacco products from 2012, Australia is on track to have the world's toughest measures against tobacco," Roxon added.
"Tobacco use is Australia's single largest cause of premature death and disease, killing 15,000 Australians a year and costing our economy A$31.5 billion."
Smoking rates in Australia have been declining since the mid-1970s when the advertising bans first started, down from around 35 percent to 19 percent today.
The Australian Council on Smoking and Health welcomed the move.
"Cigarettes are now being heavily promoted on the Internet, and there are serious concerns that both online advertising and social networking sites are being used to promote tobacco to young people," said council president Mike Daube.
Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Elaine Lies