Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Smoking Taxes - What About Those Who Don’t Quit?

This article might be 12 months old but it's still relevant considering there's a proposal to raise tax on cigarettes and push the price to over $20 for a pack of 30s.

(20/04/2009) The Heart Foundation and their chief Dr. Lyn Roberts, can go fuck themselves. These imbeciles are once again wanting to increase the tax on cigarettes in the upcoming federal budget as part of their relentless drive to outlaw tobacco. They want to increase the price of cigarettes by 21% which is 7.5¢ per cigarette or $3 for a packet of 40s, which incidentally is much higher than the current CPI. If you’re a regular reader here, you’re probably aware that I have harped on about this issue before when many smokers including myself were financially savaged previously by increased taxes. Did I mention that the Heart Foundation and their chief Dr. Lyn Roberts, can go fuck themselves?

I get it, smoking is a killer and increased pricing is an extremely effective tool for reducing smoking rates. I know that smoking related illness kills more people and costs more to the health system than alcohol and all illicit drugs combined. On the surface it all sounds compelling and is a “no brainer” as Dr. Lyn Roberts describes it but if you get past the moral imperatives and the anti-smoking dogma, then there are some serious issues that need addressing.

Let’s clear up one issue that unsurprisingly never gets mentioned by the anti-smoking brigade. The burden on the health system is huge running into the billions of dollars but alas, the tax income from tobacco is actually more. So, let’s get this out ... the government nets more money from smoking taxes than it pays out in health costs. I just needed to clear that up for the readers who constantly whinge we are wasting medical resources on ambulances who pick up people suffering from drug related problems or self inflicted health issues.

Now the reality. Pricing deterrants have been proven to be very effective in preventing smoking rates. What it basically does is make smokers reconsider the financial cost versus the pleasure but for the poorer folk, it actually prices the product out of their reach unless they sacrifice something else ... and that usually means food, clothes or other essentials.

I use the term ‘smokers’ casually and I really should use more appropriate terminology ... addicts or substance abusers or those with a chronic relapsing disorder. Nicotine is highly addictive and some experts say it is the most addictive substance we know of, including heroin. Of course, these people have never gone through heroin withdrawals or if they have, they have short memories. The point is, smokers are addicted and quitting is not easy. It mightn’t have the severe physical effects of heroin withdrawals but physiologically it’s up there with the best of them - opiates, cocaine, alcohol, laughing at Andrew Bolt etc. Like all drugs of addiction, some addicts manage to abstain from tobacco better than others. For those who find the expense of cigarettes just too much to bear, and finally quit, it’s a success for the social engineers at the HQs of various anti-smoking groups. Less smokers, less smoking related illness, less deaths and it’s also great news for the ex smokers that are now free from nicotine. Yaaaaaaah!

But what about those who didn’t quit. Once we get past the hollow cries that smokers are pathetic and weak, we are still left with over 3 million smokers. Those who are on lower incomes are more likely to smoke than those who can afford to which adds to the problem. How are they going to cope with paying $3 extra per packet? Take an example budget where a couple buy 14 packets a week between 2 of them. That is already a massive $224 per week but with the proposed tax hike, it adds nearly $50 to the weekly budget. This is simply discrimination against lower income earners.

It might be okay for Dr. Roberts to skip into work all smiley and giggly that she has cut back smoking for the masses but all around her are millions of people who are being pushed to the edge. There are families being ripped apart by a legal product known to be highly addictive. Those that succumb to the strangaling prices and quit are off the hook but those who can’t are doomed to deepening poverty. Not having enough money to buy clothes, food or pay bills might not affect the anti-smoking crusaders but it is all too real for millions of people. Loosing $50 per week means something has to be sacrificed ... skipping lunch during the week, the kids miss out on school events, Christmas presents etc. These are real for many people but there could be more severe ramifications. Divorce, depression, alcoholism, suicide and wrecked families are all symptoms of financial stress.

I can hear some minds ticking over ... just give up smoking for god’s sake. Easily said but if it was that simple, we would not have this problem. So what are the alternatives? I am not an expert but blanket strategies never seem to work out well in any field. A more targeted approach is needed. For example, if one aim is to stop people taking up smoking then maybe existing smokers should register with the government and those without a permit pay the extra tax? Maybe the tax should be based on income/debt so that low income earners will not be forced into poverty. I’m sure there are more streamlined strategies possible. Until then, anti-smoking zealots are going to continue ruining many lives under the guise of saving lives.
Boost Tax On Smokers - Heart Foundation Sky News April 2009 Smokers who puff through a packet a day will have to find an extra $1,000 a year to feed their habit if a leading health group has its way.

The Heart Foundation is urging the federal government to target smokers in the May budget by boosting tobacco tax by 21 per cent - or 7.5 cents per cigarette.

It would be the first rise over and above inflation in a decade.

The move would prompt 130,000 adults to quit and prevent 35,000 children from getting hooked on cigarettes, the foundation's chief Lyn Roberts says.

'Increasing tobacco tax is, quite frankly, a no-brainer,' Dr Roberts told the National Press Club.

'It will, in particular, benefit people of lower socio-economic status, drive up quit rates, improve health and increase disposable income.'

Dr Roberts said the increase would pour $1 billion into government coffers, which should be spent on preventative health measures.

'We have really quite a strong history over a number of years in Australia of being able to implement tobacco tax or excise increases quite successfully,' she said.

'If people could quit smoking in these tough times, an average smoker ... would probably save around $5,000 a year.'

A spokesman for federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the government would not be drawn into budget speculation.

The Cancer Council of Victoria has released a study of 4,500 smokers that found almost three quarters of respondents would try to quit if prices were increased to $20 per pack.

Smoking is a key risk factor in cardiovascular disease (CVD), which encompasses heart disease, stroke and blood vessel disease and is responsible for more than one third of all deaths in Australia.

Death rates for CVD have declined from their peak 40 years ago but Dr Roberts said she worried the downward trend could turn around. In January, a West Australian study of more than 1,000 Australian 14-year-olds found 29 per cent had a combination of risk factors that increased their chances of developing CVD.

'Like the US, progress here continues to lag in obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity,' she said.

'I ... fear that if these trends continue in Australia we could see CVD death rates rise again in the years ahead.'

Dr Roberts is pushing the government to develop a national food reformation strategy, which would pressure food manufacturers and fast-food outlets to make their products healthier.

'If we can get food companies and takeaway outlets to substitute palm oil (which contains about 55 per cent saturated fat) with oils low in saturated fat, we could make a very big impact on public health.'

She said a tax on junk food could be difficult to apply but the foundation was keen to explore the option, which was recently adopted in Denmark.

The foundation has also asked the federal government to become involved in its campaign to make people aware of the warning signs of heart attack and the importance of calling triple-zero fast.

'Disturbingly, far too many people wait too long to seek urgent treatment for heart attack,' Dr Roberts said.

Related Links:
Smoking and poverty link probe
Smoking Ban - Putting the Boot into Mental Health Patients
Tobacco Tax Increase Hurts The Poor


Noah said...

Just wanted to let you know that your comment on my page was spot on. It's either lie or have fight after fight after fight with family members. Thanks for reading my blog Terry - you seem like a caring guy and i am lucky that you read my blog.

Terry Wright said...

Howdy Noah

Thanks for the comment.

For many, quitting heroin or opiates is right for them and a natural thing to do but a small group including you and myself are probably going to have issues with it for the rest of our lives. Until our families understand this, there will never be peace.

Anonymous said...

Hi Terry,

I understand your point about those who can't quit, and I agree that the government should offer serious help to smokers in this regard. I also think tobacco manufacturers should be forced to contribute.

That said, cigarettes are a completely different animal from drugs such as heroin. Cigarettes place a large burden on the whole of society. Around 20% of the population smoke, however 100% of the population is forced to endure passive smoking every time we step out into the public arena.

Unlike heroin, cigarettes have a direct and harmful impact on anyone around the smoker. One does not harm anyone else by the act of shooting up heroin.

I think it does a disservice to the broader argument in support of drug decriminalisation and realistic drug education to include tobacco.

Anyway, just my 2 cents. Thanks again for your awesome blog!


Terry Wright said...

Thanks Jason.

Your argument is valid for the effects of 2nd hand smoke but it's not my point. I am a smoker but like most considerate people these days, I usually only smoke at home, in my car or when it won't effect anyone else. I don't have a problem with the anti-smoking agenda except when it starts to harm others instead of helping them.

My main bitch is that although raising prices to deter smoking has worked very well, it is a blunt instrument that doesn't work on everyone. Those who haven't quit with higher prices are more than likely, heavily addicted smokers who will go without everything except smokes. Higher prices will not stop them but will harm their health even more by skipping meals, eating lower quality foods etc. It will also play havoc on low income families who will cut back everything except cigarettes.

Like anti-drug zealots, there are also anti-smoking nutters who will do anything to demonise or hurt smokers. For example, most anti-smoking groups do not support e-cigarettes although they are 99% safer than traditional smokes. They also do not support cutting down as an option. It's all or nothing for them which flies in the face of Harm Minimisation.

Thanks again Jason.

BTW, I really like the 'awesome blog' comment!!!