NZ FIRST Health Policy and Analysis thanks to NZ Doctor Online
New Zealand First wants tobacco tax reduced because with a 20-pack of cigarettes currently costing around $30, leader Winston Peters says “workers and poor people in this country are being screwed over to prop up our health system”.
His party would lower the tobacco excise to bring the average price of a pack of cigarettes - he doesn’t specify what size of pack - to a maximum of $20, Mr Peters says in a media release. It would also remove tax from smoking cessation tools.
“We need to stop punishing smokers with high excise tax and help them quit by making affordable alternatives available.
“The Government’s current Smokefree 2025 approach isn’t working, with the added contradiction and hypocrisy of holding a referendum on legalising recreational marijuana.”
Mr Peters says the excise tax raises about $2 billion a year for the Government, with a disproportionate amount coming from those in lower socioeconomic groups. Only a tiny amount of that is spent on smoking cessation initiatives.
“We want to fund more addiction services and make more smoking alternatives available.
“We would prefer people didn’t smoke, but for some Kiwis and their families it’s a choice between smoking and buying the groceries."
He adds that the tax has led to both criminal importation of black market tobacco and robberies of dairies and service stations.
From Richard Edwards, a tobacco control researcher at the University of Otago in Wellington:
“Tax is put on tobacco as a public health measure … because it helps people to quit and it discourages people from starting.
“That's been shown over and over again all over the world. Of all the policy measures we use it's probably the most evidence-based measure that there is. As you increase tax, smoking prevalence goes down. That's pretty clear and has been shown in New Zealand as well.
“We've had annual tax rises above inflation since 2010 and the last one was in 2020 and there's no more planned. That has meant that the price of cigarettes and tobacco has gone up substantially over the last 10 years. And during that time we have seen reductions in smoking as you would expect. It is working.
“One of the first things the Coalition Government did was it commissioned a report into tobacco tax which was carried out by Ernst and Young. They concluded that the tax was working and that it was still justified to keep increasing tobacco tax.
Professor Edwards says there are issues with the tax, namely that smoking occurs disproportionately among the poorest people in the community. But no credible public health person is advocating a big reduction in tobacco tax.
Such a policy would most likely increase smoking prevalence and consumption of tobacco products and he believes it is unlikely New Zealand First wants that.
But Professor Edwards says it’s time to broaden New Zealand’s smokefree policies, after a decade of a nearly one-dimensional focus on tax.
“We could spend more of the revenue that’s raised to help smokers to quit and particularly to help disadvantaged smokers to quit; I definitely agree with that.”
GST could be removed from full-price cessation products, existing subsidies could be extended, or products could simply be made free to users.
He advocates spending much more than at present on educational campaigns and advertising in traditional and social media to encourage smokers to quit and to discourage non-smokers from starting.
Other measures could include removing nicotine from tobacco products, rendering them non-addictive, and greatly reducing the availability of tobacco products.