Raise tobacco tax by 40pc - health expert

By Martin Johnston

The Government is aiming for a 'smokefree target' - less than 5 per cent of Kiwis smoking - by 2025. Photo / Antoine Millett
The Government is aiming for a 'smokefree target' - less than 5 per cent of Kiwis smoking - by 2025. Photo / Antoine Millett

New Zealand will puff past its virtually-smokefree target by 20 years or more, unless tobacco taxes are increased far more than planned, MPs are to be told.

Public health specialist Dr Murray Laugesen said the planned four annual tobacco excise increases each of 10 per cent would mean the smoke-free goal would not be achieved until the 2040s or early 2050s, rather than by the 2025 target.

Dr Laugesen, who is preparing a select-committee submission on the tax-rise bill, argues in the latest NZ Medical Journal for a tax jolt of 40 per cent next year, followed by annual rises of 20 per cent.

He says this would enable the country to achieve the 2025 "smokefree" target - a smoking rate of less than 5 per cent.

The price of a cheaper-brand packet of 20 cigarettes would more than double to $29 after four years under this system, from $13 a packet now. The percentage of smokers in the adult population would drop to 10.4 per cent, from about 16.5 per cent now.

The 40 per cent rise alone would cause 100,000 smokers to stub out their last cigarette and reduce consumption by one billion cigarettes next year.

Price rises are considered the most effective way of reducing smoking.

In 2009, 21 per cent of adults smoked, the most recent published national survey shows.

But Dr Laugesen estimates from industry figures showing declining tobacco consumption that this figure has dropped to 16.5 per cent, or 584,000 smokers.

He expected his proposal, supported by other tobacco control experts, would produce a noticeable reduction in heart attack hospital admissions from early next year.

"Quitting smoking halves the excess risk of early death from coronary heart disease within one year, and 10 to 15 years without smoking abolishes the excess all-cause mortality compared to never-smokers of the same age," Dr Laugesen said in the journal.

He said the Treasury had underestimated the impact of the Government's chosen option on quitting and smoking fewer cigarettes

He predicted tobacco excise, expected to take $1.3 billion this financial year, would increase by $139 million over four years, not the $528 million calculated by the Treasury.

* Visit www.parliament.nz to make a submission on the tobacco excise amendment bill.

SMOKE SIGNALS

Government proposal for tobacco excise
* Four annual rises of 10 per cent.
* Expected effect on adult smoking prevalence: down 7 per cent by 2021.

Tobacco control researchers want:
* 40 per cent rise, followed by annual 20 per cent increases.
* Expected effect on prevalence: down 36 per cent by 2016.

- NZ Herald

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