The Tax Working Group’s call to redirect tobacco tax income to quit support has been backed by Hāpai Te Hauora, which says it is time for the Government to take a “brave stand”.

Hāpai Te Hauora, the Māori public health agency, was responding to last week’s release of the Tax Working Group’s interim report, which recommended no more tobacco tax hikes and instead spending more of the current tax income on smoking cessation.

The tobacco tax raised almost $1.7 billion in 2017, an increase of over 50 per cent since 2010. Smokers contribute an estimated 2.5 per cent of the New Zealand tax take, and Hāpai says it would take a smoker on the minimum wage three months of work just to pay for their year of smoking.

Tobacco excise is scheduled to keep increasing by 10 per cent above inflation until 2020, but the Tax Working Group said Treasury advice was that the impact of higher tobacco taxes would be quite small on the numbers smoking. Instead it recommended that the Government prioritised other measures to help people stop smoking, such as regulation and educational campaigns.

Mihi Blair, the General Manager of the Tobacco Control Advocacy Service at Hāpai, supported the group’s recommendations. “We have an opportunity to support New Zealanders to transition to safer alternatives from tobacco and maintain their rangatiratanga, their self-determination, with the choice of safer alternatives.”

She said e-cigarettes or vaping was the most disruptive option to smoking, which continues to kill over 4,500 New Zealanders every year.

“It is time this government took a brave stand and reinvested a greater proportion of that tax spend into effective services and options that support people to stop smoking, education and mass media,” said Blair. “And with a view to start managing the supply of tobacco, which has been highlighted in the media in recent years with increased dangers of selling tobacco at corner dairies.”

Blair said Aotearoa had an opportunity to learn from other countries in regards to vaping legislation and, if managed well, vaping can have a significant impact on smoking prevalence, supporting the government goal of a smoke-free New Zealand by 2025.

“Vaping has been shown to have benefits for Māori women, who in community-led initiatives via vaping have managed to stop smoking, and also positively support other areas of their life that are determinants to future good health, including financial wellbeing.”

She said New Zealand still has over 500,000 smokers, and prevalence is particularly high for some populations – especially Māori women – and tobacco addiction was causing health issues and financial hardship.

“Hāpai believe that, in order to achieve the Smokefree 2025 goal of less than five percent of the population smoking by 2025, this government should heed the advice of the Tax Working Group and explore the greater variety of options and choices available now other than tax, for which the greatest burden is borne by those on lower incomes.

“This includes immediate actions around vaping regulations and legislation, reinvestment into effective mass media and a long-term plan to investigate greater supply controls, similar to alcohol, where retail sales are more strictly regulated,” said Blair.

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