Tobacco control measures

Stuff reports:

Increasing taxes by as much as 50 per cent a year could form the “backbone” of efforts to make New Zealand smoke-free, politicians have been told.

Tobacco taxes increased by 10 per cent at the start of the year, and academics and anti-smoking groups have encouraged Parliament’s finance and expenditure select committee to support a bigger price hike.

Otago University public health professor Nick Wilson, who has studied the best-value methods for reducing the impact of smoking, said politicians were “on extremely strong scientific ground” when raising taxes on tobacco.

“It’s one of the most powerful things that can be done to improve the health of the population … tax can be the backbone of the strategy.”

My personal view is that increasing the excise tax is a sensible measure to reduce smoking. However this should not be done to increase the overall level of taxation, so any increase in excise taxes should be compensated by reducing income tax rates or increasing thresholds.

There is a point at which increasing the price will lead to significant growth in the black market, as has been seen in many countries. I’m not sure at what point this becomes a bigger issue, but policy makers need to be aware of this.

Wilson said the issue of e-cigarettes, which are not currently approved for smoking cessation in New Zealand, was “a very complex area” due to the amount of new studies coming out every week.

It would be best to control their use through pharmacies until their benefits and dangers were fully known, he said.

So you can buy tobacco from the dairy but e-cigarettes only from a pharmacy? Not sensible.

National Maori Tobacco Control Leadership Service kaiwhakahaere Zoe Hawke said tax increases were a “foundation policy” that anti-tobacco organisations could use to improve quitting rates. …

“We need to remove nicotine from the products out there and do some transitional moves to help people move away from it, and e-cigarettes could potentially be something that will help with that too.”

Good to see an open mind there.

T&T Consulting director Sue Taylor said the smoking health programmes already in place were not doing enough to help people quit, and a significant price increase would make a big difference.

Taylor said tobacco taxes should be increased by 50 per cent this year, followed by 25 per cent each year until 2020.

I suspect that level of increase would see more move to the black market. The 10% increase per year has worked well to date.

She did not support e-cigarettes as they “normalised” smoking, and was also concerned that the majority of e-cigarettes were produced by tobacco manufacturers.

“They’re still trying to double-dip everywhere, they’re still trying to introduce other ways of continuing to have the population addicted to nicotine, so we seriously need to think about how we’re going to tax those as well.”

This statement is a tell-tale sign that the motivation of the person is to damage companies they don’t like, rather than just focus on harm reduction. It’s like the anti alcohol crusaders who attack “Big Alcohol” but say craft beers are fine.

Health New Zealand smoking policy researcher Murray Laugesen supported a tax increase, and said the Government should look at legalising the use of e-cigarettes.

“They’ve killed nobody so far, against 4000 deaths [a year] from ordinary cigarettes.”

A startling statistic.

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