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‘Fat people’ to blame for tobacco tax: Winston Peters

NZ First leader Winston Peters is blaming “fat people” for the hike in tobacco taxes.

Parliament sat under urgency to rush through legislation raising tobacco taxes by 10 per cent a year for the next four years, a move voted for by every party except NZ First.

Associate Health Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga said it would save lives and prevent young people taking up a deadly smoking habit.

But Peters said the Government should put as much effort behind tackling the “tsunami of obesity”. He blamed the tax hike on “fat people sitting in their ivory towers telling smokers what to do”.

“This shows the gross hypocrisy of the government. They want to have the country smoke-free by 2025; why not fat-free by 2025?”

The increase in excise tax will boost the Government’s coffers by $425 million over four years, and cost the average smoker (someone who smokes 10.6 cigarettes a day) an extra $1,198 a year, according to ACT’s David Seymour.

That takes the total cost of excise taxes for the average smoker to $3786 a year. The tax increase will take the cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes to about $32 by 2020.

Seymour said the Government should have delivered a tax cut instead and made “a bold and innovative health policy change” by legalising e-cigarettes.

But he voted for the legislation because of ACT’s confidence and supply agreement with National.

Peters, a smoker, said the Government was picking on low-income people by singling out smokers – “people who are not allowed to have any freedom to enjoy something that is legal without being hit hard in the pocket and made to feel guilty”.

“The government is charging multinationals less than half one percent taxation while thumping smokers with a tax which will bring in $425 million over four years.

Lotu-Iiga said smoking was “a relentless killer”.

“But it is a deadly habit we can do something about. We need to use every measure to stop people smoking and deter others from starting. Increasing the price is the single most effective tool to do that.”

Smoking rates have dropped but 550,000 adult New Zealanders aged over 15 still smoked daily.

“Smoking remains one of the biggest causes of premature death in New Zealand. Twelve people die each day from smoking related illness. 4,500 to 5,000 people die each year. That is like the entire population of a town like Foxton being wiped out by smoking,” Lotu-Iiga said.

“About 85 per cent of people who die from lung cancer are smokers. They also die from heart disease; from stroke; from emphysema and from cancer of the mouth, pharynx and oesophagus. All because of smoking.”

Smoking related illness was a huge cost to the country as well as to individuals, their families and whanau.

“Increasing the excise on tobacco creates a strong incentive to quit and disincentives for those contemplating smoking, and in particular young people.”

Right wing lobby group the Taxpayers’ Union joined calls to legalise the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes.

Executive Director Jordan Williams said UK Government research showed e-cigarettes were 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco.

“E-cigarettes are the number one tool used by smokers to kick the habit in Britain, but the Government has kept the sale of them illegal here.”

“Today’s legislated hikes in tobacco charges are projected to bring in $425 million – more than half the Government’s projected surplus next year. That’s off the back of a demographic that can least afford it and often live in poverty.”

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