Rodney Hide: Alas, poor picked on smokers

About 17 per cent of New Zealanders smoke. Photo / File
About 17 per cent of New Zealanders smoke. Photo / File

The nation's smokers have my sympathy. I sometimes have an urge to take up smoking in solidarity and as an up-you to vicious, rapine Government.

Smokers are marginalised, picked-on, blamed, banned and taxed. Smokers kill babies, destroy our health, clog our hospitals, and cause climate change. Smokers are half-citizens. They are banished with their cigarettes to the outer regions. Their views are shut down and they lack democratic voice.

Their treatment contrasts to other drug users.

P-addicts elicit sympathy. We expect the Government to look after P-addicts. The drug-addled days of celebrities are a rite of passage. Cannabis users are cool and hip and the police and tax man leave them alone.

But, alas, poor smokers. Their drug is legal. They are pushed into the cold and rain, taxed and taxed and abused and belittled. And those doing the belittling and bullying can feel good and noble as they battle nasty corporates and fight for "public health".

About 17 per cent of New Zealanders smoke. The Government goal is to make us smoke-free by 2025. Its chief weapon is tax. Tobacco is by far the most taxed item in New Zealand. The Government takes in $1.4 billion a year in tobacco tax, which it acknowledges is more than the cost smokers impose on the public health system.

A pack of cigarettes costs about $20. More than $14 is tax and it hits the poor and brown especially hard. Half of smokers are Maori or Pacific Islanders.

But tax advocates are obsessed with the 2025 target and want even higher taxes. University of Otago's Professor Nick Wilson told Parliament increasing the cost of tobacco was "one of the most powerful things that can be done" to improve our health.

"You are on extremely strong scientific grounds for any recommendations for increases for tobacco taxes," he said.

Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) recommends a further 20 per cent tax increase on tobacco. T&T Consulting director Sue Taylor wants an immediate 50 per cent tax hike and 20 per cent increases in following years.

"The rationale I've proposed is because I'm out there on the ground. I actually see the continued smoking despite the fact that we have programmes in place."

Taylor's proposal would see a packet of cigarettes priced at a $100 by 2025.

I suspect that would achieve the Government's target. New Zealand would be smoke free. Taylor would not be seeing any smokers. The job would be done.

That would be because we smokers would be holed-up, out of sight, hidden in the hills, puffing furiously on our home-grown weed - bandits and outlaws, but free.

I hope I would be with them. I would prefer the fun and the freedom compared to the prissy lot we have become.

- Herald on Sunday

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Rodney Hide

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