Expert says smoking tax hike "doing more damage than good"

By Kawe Roes

New Zealand has the highest price relative to income in the world for a pack of 20 cigarettes.   Dr Marewa Glover is calling on the Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa to look into the yearly tax hike on tobacco which she says isn't preventing people from smoking.

"Please look at the effect on young Māori women and especially on Pacific people," says Glover, "They are over-represented among the smoking population, they are over-represented among our pōhara whānau and the tax, the punishing, the shaming and fining- this is just doing more damage than good."

In a written response to Te Ao Māori News the Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa says, "There is one more tobacco excise increase legislated for in the Customs and Excise Act 2018, which is scheduled for 1 January 2020."

The tax increase affects the young and old. 

76-year-old kuia Kath Caldwell from Ngāti Wai who lives in Whangārei has smoked most of her life. she says the cost of tobacco has already had a huge financial impact on her and husband James. 

"{I've} been smoking for 50 plus years now, and it's just a highly addictive blimmin' thing that I just struggle to give up."

Kath says an ongoing rise in costs had forced her husband to quit ten years ago. 

"Increasing the price of cigarettes is not going to work for the young people...they get the money to do it.  I've seen them where they buy a packet of tailor-mades [cigarettes] break them up and make a packet of 20's and they can get 40 to 60 [more] rolled cigarettes out of that."

This is just one of many cases illustrating the reasons Glover disagrees with the government approach on tobacco taxes.  

"They are increasing the taxes and they are continuing to do that and it doesn't work, it's not stopping people smoking anymore." 

"When Labour was in the last time they didn't do the tax increases- so they knew it hurt people- and New Zealand First has never supported the tax increases.  But, now they in power and they have obviously looked around and gone, 'how are we going to pay for all of this?  Hello, who cares about the smokers anyway we'll get it from them'." 

After 2020, and with no further policy decisions, tobacco excise will only be adjusted for inflation each year, subject to Cabinet's agreement. 

The Deputy Health Minister will meet again in the coming weeks to discuss tax increases after 2020.