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Manawatu health advocate applauds cigarette tax hike

Manawatu smokers are bracing for another three years of 10 per cent tax hikes, the Government’s strategy for stamping out the habit.

While many are applauding a move that will see the cigarette price-hikes continue, some wanted it to be higher.

Manawatu smoking cessation officers have said the price hikes could have been higher than the 10 per cent mark, which will bring the average cost of cigarettes from NZ$20 to NZ$30 by 2020.

The Government announced plans to extend the annual tax bump for cigarette sales this year.

Ten per cent tax increases on sales were set to finish next year, but Thursday’s Budget forecast it to continue until 2020.

Smokefree health promotion advisor Julie Beckett said the tax increases could have been slightly higher, to achieve the goal of having less than five per cent of the population smoking by 2025.

“There was talk that it needed to be up at the 20 per cent mark … at least it’s something,” Beckett said.

“But I’m really happy that they have put that in place for the next four years.”

About 16 per cent of New Zealanders smoke and about 30 per cent of Maori smoke.

Coupled with the suite of tobacco cessation initiatives country-wide, annual New Year’s increases would continue to be effective, Beckett said.

Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga said the increases were the “single most powerful tool to reduce smoking”.

“Previous excise increases reduced per capita tobacco consumption by around a quarter and prompted thousands of smokers to quit.”

Immediately after the last increase, Quitline was receiving about 200 to 300 per cent higher caller numbers, he said, about 250 to 300 calls a day.

Cost was one of the few drivers that encouraged people to quit, he said.

“What we know is that it encourages more people to call us, and enroll in our programme. And we know that the people in our programme have a good chance of quitting smoking.”

But not all are so enthusiastic.

Butt Bucket owner Richard Green questioned how far the Government would go before it realised it was hurting the “poverty stricken society”.

“People buying cigarettes and tobacco are low socio-economic. The ones [the government] hurt the most are the ones they want to help the most.”

“We don’t see that many people walking in in suits and ties.”

Green accepted smoking had health risks, but there was also a serious problem with obesity.

“Are we going out and taxing chocolate bars 1000 per cent?

“All it is doing is causing higher crime and higher poverty.”

Beckett said she was exceptionally proud that her 3-year-old grandson did not know what cigarettes were, as her son gave up smoking before the child was born.

“He found a butt and said ‘Kuia, what is this?’ I felt so happy that my [son] wasn’t smoking any more.”

Children who grew up with both parents smoking were more likely to smoke, she said.

She said Maori, Pasifika and pregnant women were a focus for smoking cessation officers.

“This is really what it’s all about … making it about the children.”

But the idea of getting to the 2025 smokefree goal was “a bit worrying”, so there would need to be a bit of a push, she said.

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