Thursday, 2 July 2020

The truth about tobacco taxes from a surprising source

Thanks to exorbitant taxes, a pack of twenty cigarettes costs around $35 (£18) in New Zealand. Not quite as ludicrously expensive as in Australia, but enough to have caused an epidemic of robberies from shops.

A PhD student at New Zealand's University of Canterbury, Ben Wamamili, has proposed hiking the price to $50. I assume he has his heart set on getting into the 'public health' racket and thought this would be a good way of making his mark. 

Student smokers would be more likely to quit the habit if the price for a pack topped $50, a study has shown.

His research, such as it is, involved asking students whether they would give up smoking if cigarettes cost a certain amount. Stated preferences of this sort as worthless (my grandmother insisted that she would quit when cigarettes cost £1 a pack but never did). Apparently, 39 per cent of them said they would stop smoking if the price was hiked by another $15.

Nothing surprising about any of this. Demanding higher taxes is what anti-smoking campaigners do. The surprising thing is that New Zealand's premier anti-smoking group is against it.

Deborah Hart, director of smoke-free action group ASH NZ, said she welcomed the research but New Zealand already has the world’s highest priced cigarettes, in relation to income. 

“The people we are most interested in getting to be smoke-free are people who have the highest rates of smoking, and they tend to be in a low-socioeconomic group," she said.

"Putting up the price any further for people who are already in poverty and have a real dependence on smoking is counterproductive.

"If price was going to be the only thing that worked for that group of people, it would have worked already.”

All true, of course, but this has to be a first, no?

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