COMMENT: It's 11 years since I stopped smoking, defying the predictions of all who know me, including not only my immediate family, but also my GP: "I just had you down as a lifelong smoker" she said supportively when I broke the news.
In that time, I have bought one packet of cigarettes, on behalf of a friend who couldn't leave the house. It proved to be quite the performance, the procedure having evolved so much. I had to ask supermarket staff exactly where I could make my purchase, there being no cigarettes visible. Then there were decisions to be made over the type of cigarette. As for the price – it was on its trajectory to the current high of $25.45 for 20.
The reason my friend couldn't leave the house was that she was dying of lung cancer and at the stage when doctors say: There's no point even thinking about giving up, because it won't make a shred of difference.
So that was ironic. But smoking comes obscured by a stinky cloud of ironies. Not the least grim of these is the health consequences for your friendly neighbourhood dairy owners, who instead of spending their days making small talk with their equally friendly customers, now spend them in fear of being assaulted by thieves in pursuit of cigarettes.
The thieves are apparently a market response, supplying a demand generated by the high price of a packet of fags.
There's the irony of the notion, widely believed, that a potentially fatal practice can earn so much money in the form of tax that governments have trouble kicking the habit.
Tangible costs of smoking in 2015 were estimated by wellplace.nz at $2.5 billion. The tobacco tax take in 2017 was $1.7b, so it looks like the rest of us are still subsidising smokers' health care.
What would be ideal from a revenue point of view would be for more people to smoke and not get ill, but that doesn't look likely.
A cold-hearted neoliberal calculation – and there's really no other kind – might weigh up the number of lives saved by making cigarettes prohibitively expensive against the harm visited on retailers and conclude in the tax's favour.
The dairy owners' plight was recently brought to our attention by the Acting Prime Minister, who has suggested that the price of cigarettes should be lowered as a way of reducing assaults.
Would lowering the price of fags (and it's hard to believe that someone in 2018 is actually advocating making it easier to become a smoker, so there's another irony) make the difference Winston Peters is claiming?
Possibly, but there are much better solutions that don't cause lung cancer. Retailers can choose – and some already have chosen - not to stock cigarettes, surely a less and less important part of their inventory as the number of smokers declines. The problem for dairy owners would be equally and fairly solved if cigarette sales in dairies and similar small outlets were banned altogether.
Yet another irony of cigarette smoking is that unlike many other drugs with potentially serious health consequences, it is no fun at all. It is merely something the addict does in order to feel normal and craving-free, like a non-smoker does all the time.
A reasonable, safe and compassionate solution, that would also continue to see the number of smokers go down, would be to treat cigarette addiction as the health problem it is and make them available on prescription as part of a programme to help registered addicts stop. It can be done.