The AMA understands that QANTAS has instructed its staff to ensure that cigarettes are 'displayed prominently on top' of the in-flight duty-free cart to 'ensure our customers are aware of the duty-free products onboard' and to 'boost sales'.
AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, has labelled QANTAS' apparent actions a retrograde step that encouraged smoking and was inconsistent with government and community efforts to address the causes of preventable chronic disease.
The AMA will be writing to QANTAS to urge the airline to reverse any decision to sell tobacco products on its flights.
Dr Capolingua expressed particular concern about the message QANTAS may be sending to children and young people.
"QANTAS could be positioning cigarettes as a normal consumer product and a standard part of the in-flight experience, like items from the drinks trolley. Tobacco products are not like other items. They are inherently harmful," she said.
"It is strange that an airline that prides itself on an international reputation for safety could be pushing packs of poison to its customers."
Dr Capolingua said there was no safe level of tobacco use - which is why the sale, display and promotion of tobacco products are subject to strict restrictions everywhere, it seems, except in airports and on board aircraft.
"If media reports are correct, the airline is exploiting a major legislative loophole which allows duty-free tobacco to be exempt from government restrictions on how tobacco products are displayed and sold. There is no justification for the continued sale of duty-free tobacco, and particularly not in this manner," she said.
Health groups had received complaints from QANTAS staff concerned about having to sell tobacco as part of their jobs, as well as the increased risk of smoking in aircraft toilets when passengers are provided with cigarettes.
The AMA has been calling for an end to duty-free tobacco sales for years and has also supported calls by previous Federal Governments for Australia to take the lead in negotiating an end to international agreements that have allowed the continuation of duty-free tobacco sales.
"The AMA believes the issue of duty-free tobacco should now be considered by the Preventative Health Task Force as part of its focus on tobacco as a contributor to preventable illness," Dr Capolingua said.
The total costs of tobacco use to Australia were estimated to be $31.5 billion (2004/05), and the cost of revenue lost to the Government from duty-free tobacco sales was estimated to be between $11.2 million (1992) and $25 million (2002-03).
Smoking remains the single largest cause of preventable death and disease in Australia. It is responsible for around 16,000 Australian deaths every year. Treating diseases and conditions caused by smoking takes up nearly 1.5 million hospital patient bed-days a year.