Opinion: Cigarette price hikes achieved what my will power couldn't

OPINION: The only way to get Kiwis to stop smoking is to make cigarettes so expensive people have no choice but to quit.

I know it works because that's how I stopped smoking.

And boy did I love it. At the start, anyway. I took up the habit as a stupid teenager because a grownup in my family smoked and so cigarettes were easy to get a hold of.

Addiction quickly took hold and by the time I was 19 I was a serious, full-time smoker. I would light up as soon as I woke in the morning, I'd chain smoke at the pub, I'd have five, six, seven smoke breaks a day at work.

My boyfriends smoked, my friends smoked and we all thought it was cool and fun. We had wallets stuffed full of disposable income and zero consideration for our health or those around us.

But by the time I reached my thirties I no longer enjoyed smoking - the only trouble was I couldn't stop. They say nicotine is as addictive as heroin and I believe it.

I guess my willpower was lousy too. I would stop smoking and start again a few days later. It was just so easy to grab a pack from the supermarket or petrol station.

By 2011 I was spending $100, maybe $150 a week on cigarettes, sometimes more. I wanted to quit, sure, but while I could afford them and they were right there I kept on puffing away.

Then one day I went to start my car and I was out of petrol. I didn't have the money in my wallet or bank account to put more fuel in the car.

I had something like $4 to my name until the next pay day but I had a near-full packet of cigarettes in my handbag.

I remember putting my head on the steering wheel, bawling my eyes out from shame, and never smoking again. I simply couldn't afford it any more. Years of government-driven price increases had taken the cost of a packet to about $25.

It was hard to go cold turkey but I had no choice. With my finances running on empty I couldn't afford to keep smoking. Financial necessity achieved something my willpower couldn't.

After a week or two I noticed I had all this extra cash left over at the end of the week. I could buy myself new clothes or enjoy a nice dinner out and start saving for a holiday.

I fully support the Government's plan to make New Zealand a smokefree country by 2025 by hitting smokers with a 10 percent price increase annually.

I know the plan will work because putting the cost of smoking out of my reach was the only way I stopped, and if cigarettes were still affordable I would probably still be smoking today.

Cigarettes kill. It's time to put a really, really high price on keeping Kiwis alive and healthy by making sure they can't afford to smoke.

Angela Cuming is a journalist and writer who lives in Hamilton with her three young sons. 

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