10pc tax hike fails to put off smokers

By Joseph Aldridge

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Tauranga dairy owners say good intentions have so far not translated into their smoking customers kicking the nicotine habit.

The tax increase that hiked the price of tobacco products by 10 per cent on January 1 has not translated into a slow down in sales, despite Quitline experiencing a sharp increase in the number of smokers seeking help to quit.

Quitline, a charitable trust that helps people stop smoking, said it had signed up 2171 people from throughout New Zealand in the first week of 2013, of whom 75 were from the Bay of Plenty.

Spokesman Bruce Bassett said the most exciting statistic for the first week of January was the increase in blogs and emails. Quitline's Quit Blogs almost trebled, with 2476 people blogging for the week, compared with 963 for the same period last year.

Mr Bassett said Quit Blogs connected people with others who had gone through, or were going through, the same experiences.

However, out on the street in downtown Tauranga, dairy owners said they had not noticed much of a reduction in the number of people buying cigarettes.

"It hasn't slowed down, people are a bit shocked at the prices but it hasn't slowed down," said Candice Dewat, co-owner of City Mart convenience store.

"A few people say 'I should quit' but I've been hearing that for years and they're still going."

Mrs Dewat said she had noticed a reduction in the number of customers, mostly older people, who bought the more expensive brands of cigarettes.

"Some people have sacrificed their favourite brands and gone for the cheaper ones. A lot of people ask 'what's the cheapest cigarettes?'. It's the favourite question at the moment."

Balbir Singh, owner of Tauranga City Lotto, said the price hike was hurting smokers' wallets but it was not stopping them.

"The first time when they look at the price they say 'I must quit' but it doesn't normally happen, they come back again."

AJ's Lotto owner Jensen Zheng said smokers appeared to have accepted the higher price.

"Three or four years ago, when the price went up, the response was stronger but now it seems people got used to it."

Quitline research showed that, although most people wanted to quit for family or health reasons, tobacco tax increases provided the trigger some smokers needed. Most smokers knew the 10 per cent price increase was coming, Mr Bassett said.

The cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes has increased from $14.40 to $16, and a pack of 25s from $18 to $20.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said smoking killed about 5000 New Zealanders every year and it was pleasing so many people had started the new year with the goal to quit smoking.

He said the number of smokers continued to decline, with 63,000 quit attempts made through Quitline's services last year.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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