By: Lucy Bennett

Increasing the price of tobacco continues to be the single most effective tool for reducing tobacco use, an evaluation on the impact of excise increases says.

But it says the most deprived households are choosing tobacco over essentials such as food and rent.

The report for the Ministry of Health, by EY, evaluated the impact of the excise increases on tobacco on New Zealand’s Smokefree 2025 goal.

It said that although the weight of evidence showed that increasing the price of tobacco continued to be the single most effective tool for reducing tobacco use, multiple interventions working together were necessary to reduce tobacco consumption and daily smoking prevalence.

It also pointed to shortcomings in reaching Māori and Pasifika, and the deprivation high tobacco prices was creating for low-income families.

“Achieving Smokefree 2025 will be challenging, and without increased attention on further complementary tobacco control interventions … the Government are likely to fall short of this target by a wide margin – for Māori and Pacific populations in particular,” the report said.

Since January 2010, the Government has increased tobacco excise by at least CPI plus 10 per cent each year. The current series of tax increases are scheduled to end in 2020.

After that, with no further policy change planned, tobacco excise will be adjusted only for CPI.

The report found that while the proportion of the adult population using tobacco had declined from 18.3 per cent in 2006/7 to 13.8 per cent in 2016/17, the gap in smoking rates for Māori and Pasifika remained significant – 2.7 times higher for Māori than non-Maori for example.

The impact of excise increases on the spending habits of income households was disturbing, with fewer than half (47 per cent) of all smoking households responding to price rises by buying fewer tobacco products.

A higher proportion of lower income households bought tobacco than high-income households. They were also most likely to go without, or spend less on food and groceries, utilities and other essentials to buy tobacco.

One in 10 reported going without something they needed. Going without was twice as likely in Māori households than in European households.

Many people also said there had been times when they had to choose between tobacco and other essentials such as food, rent, petrol or other bills. Most said they limited their spending on those essentials so they could buy the amount of tobacco they “needed”.

There was also concern about the impact that spending on tobacco was having on young children, who would miss getting enough food, clothing, education and so on.

Asked about the impact of future tobacco increases, 60 per cent of current smokers said they would buy fewer cigarettes, but Europeans were more likely to do so (64 per cent) than those from the other main ethnic groups, particularly Pasifika (45 per cent), the report said.

“The weight of evidence shows that short to medium term increases to the excise are likely to continue to be effective at encouraging people to change their smoking behaviour.

“However, the extent to which smokers will continue to quit into the longer term is unclear, especially as those remaining smokers are likely to be those who have a strong addiction,” the report said.

A report on achieving the Smokefree 2025 goal from the Health and Māori select committees recently made a series of recommendations to the Government, including completing the unachieved recommendations from a 2010 Māori Affairs select committee inquiry.

Comment is being sought from Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa on the EY report.
Last month she announced plans to regulate vaping and smokeless tobacco products in much the same way as tobacco products.

She is also working to ban smoking in cars carrying children.

Source: NZ Herald

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