Smoking policy leads to ‘unintended consequences’
Looking at the geography of smoking
The reality to date is that tobacco taxes drive up the cost of living for beneficiaries, many of whom are Ma¯ ori women.
Earlier this year I nearly cut the end off my finger. I looked at what I had done and realised I needed to get it stitched up. One handed I drove to A and E, remembering a bowl of water for Pip, who came along for the ride (she doesn’t like to be left alone).
I can’t remember ever going to A and E and it was an eye opener. As I was being processed through the queue of walking wounded I was asked; “Are you at present the subject of physical or emotional abuse?” “Only on a daily basis from my wife,” I joked. The health worker looked me in the eye and told me that they were required to take my answer seriously and so I confessed to joking. “One final question; are you, or have you ever been, a cigarette smoker?” I looked her straight in the eye and said, “I am not a smoker and have never been one.”
The American doctor, who turned out to be a drummer from Seattle, did a good job of putting the stitches in, and the Indian nurse did a good job of taking them out and today I can type comfortably again — although six months later I can still feel which one it was.
Over the years I have written a few columns on the so-called
Smokefree 2025 campaign and I have looked at the geography of smoking. Oh to be in Indonesia again, where they grow tobacco and cigarettes are $2 a packet instead of $30.
The Labour Government has just introduced another round of initiatives aimed at one in eight adults in New Zealand who still smoke, the figure is as high as one in three for tangata whenua.
Making it illegal to start smoking for the young and cutting out some nicotine were rolled out by the government because “current methods have not worked”. Even by their own standards past methods have not achieved their stated goals. Two out of every five Ma¯ ori women still smoke and they are the ones who can least afford $30 a packet.
A decade ago John Key’s National Government was taking in $1 billion a year in revenue from tobacco taxes. The fact that three years of tobacco taxes from Ma¯ ori smokers was about equal to the total of treaty settlements to Ma¯ ori to date would have appealed to a banker’s mind. Today tobacco tax revenue is approaching two billion.
Labour’s 2021 policy is supported by National, the Greens and the Ma¯ ori Party. Only Act opposed it on the grounds that “prohibition has never worked and
has unintended consequences”.
Some of the “unintended consequences” have been borne by the dairy owners (20 per cent of their revenue coming from tobacco sales). I met an Indian sitting inside a caged counter in a dairy in Dannevirke this year. “Sadly sir it is necessary these days,” he told me.
Another unintended consequence has been smuggling. It is estimated that one in eight packets of cigarettes is contraband and it is common to see Chinese brands on the footpaths of Auckland. In Australia contraband cigarettes come mostly from
Malaysia. ASH says New Zealand customs need more resources to fight smuggling.
New Zealand’s tobacco policy has been described as “world leading” and is the result of state funded university research and academic grants to policy writers on a single mission — to make us all stop smoking.
Even the public relations entity ASH is 95 per cent government funded. Everyone is getting paid by the Government to say what they say.
The reality to date is that tobacco taxes drive up the cost of living for beneficiaries, many of whom are Ma¯ ori women. It unfairly targets an ethnic group and therefore can be called racist. In the past Tariana Turia denied that it was a racist tax because “I was the one that thought it up.”
At the next election I will be voting Act simply because of their tobacco policy. Who knows, if they are right on this one they may be right on other things.