Cigarette tax 'racist' - researcher

Cigarette tax 'racist' - researcher

An Auckland tobacco researcher says cigarette tax discriminates against Maori, who have the highest rates of smoking.

It comes after the Government decided to continue increasing the tax on tobacco by 10 percent for the next four years.

New Zealand has a tall target of being smoke-free in just nine years, and last week's Budget introduced more tobacco taxes to help that.

But researcher Marewa Glover says because Maori and Pacific people are the biggest smokers, the taxes are discrimination.

"What's racist about it is it's a policy that's applied to everybody, but not everybody is smoking at same prevalence rates," she says.

The price for a packet will now hit $30 in four years. Ms Glover says these minority groups are bearing the brunt of the Government's punitive measures.

"I think it's really hard-hitting and it's cruel in this environment we're in, with people under a lot of financial strain."

She used to support tobacco tax but changed her mind when she realised it hadn't had a significant effect on Maori and Pacific smoking rates.

Data from the New Zealand Health Survey in 2015 shows smoking rates have dropped among most groups.

Overall the number of adults smoking has dropped from 20 percent to 17 percent in recent years. The number of youth smoking has seen the biggest decline, from 16 percent to 6 percent.

But Maori have the highest smoking rate at 38 percent, and that hasn't improved significantly in years.

It was the Maori Party that introduced laws to increase tobacco tax in 2012 and co-leader Marama Fox stands by it.

"We're not trying to harm people," she says. "We're trying to ensure the survival of our whakapapa for future generations. Smoking kills -- it's as simple as that."

Ms Fox disputes the data Ms Glover is using, saying the 2013 census shows nearly a 10 percent drop in Maori smoking rates, and the Maori Tobacco Control Service says some of that is due to tobacco tax.

Te Ara Ha Ora manager Zoe Hawke says it not only works to get people to quit, but to get them to stop starting in the first place.