Does hiking tobacco prices make people quit - or just punish their families?

These days if you want to light up you'll pay a hefty price for a ciggie.

But despite the ever-increasing expense designed to curb the addictive and dangerous habit, some of us are still smoking one or two packs of cigarettes every day.

In 2011, the Government announced that it wants New Zealand to become the world's second smokefree country by 2025 (behind the central Asian county of Bhutan).

The smokefree goal is a bit of a misnomer however, with the actual goal being to have only five percent of Kiwis still smoking by 2025.

The Government's chief battle-plan for implementing this tobacco prohibition is to whack smokers with price increases of 10 percent annually.

Its argument is simple: "Make the cost of smoking so high that people will be forced to quit because of the expense."

Already the cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes has reached $25 - that's a significant outlay for someone who needs one pack a day to satisfy their habit. Only Australians pay more for their cigarettes worldwide.

So how much are we smoking and paying for cigarettes compared to other countries?

Does hiking tobacco prices make people quit - or just punish their families?

As you can see, New Zealand's habit of 671 cigarettes per adult a year pales in comparison to most other countries.

Much like alcohol consumption, Russia also leads the world in tobacco use, with a staggering 2690 cigarettes being smoked annually by each person. But Russians are forking out just $2.75 NZ per pack compared to the $25 dollars smokers here in New Zealand do.

The cheapest country to buy cigarettes is Nigeria where a pack will cost you just 93 NZ cents. Interestingly though, Nigeria's smoking rate of 172 per person per year is one of the world's lowest.

Who in New Zealand is smoking?

The Ministry of Health says that 17 percent of adult New Zealanders still smoke, and that 15 percent do so daily - in other words 15 percent of Kiwis are still addicted to smoking and can't stop.

If you breakdown the ethnicity of those Kiwis who smoke and the percentage of that group who do it looks like this:

  • Māori 38.6
  • Pasifika 25.5
  • European/other 14.5
  • Asian 8.1

The heaviest smokers in New Zealand are Māori women, of whom a staggering 42 percent smoke daily. 

The least in New Zealand are Asian women of whom only two percent smoke.

The Ministry of Health also says the average age that Kiwis start smoking is just 14.8 years old, that smokers are more likely to have poor mental health than non-smokers, and that smokers are more likely to binge drink.

Woman smoking while driving a car
Should smoking while driving be banned - just as cellphone use is? (Getty)

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox told Newshub the smoking rates for Māori are appalling and that cigarettes should not be so widely available to purchase.

"Cigarettes should not be sold in dairies but from licenced outlets similar to alcohol.

"The Government isn't doing enough. We want to see smokefree days where you can't buy cigarettes at all, and where all public places are completely smokefree," Ms Fox says. 

"We also want to see a complete ban of smoking in cars, we do it for cellphones, why not cigarettes?

"It should be illegal to smoke in a car, especially when you have a child in the vehicle."

So is the Government's plan to annually increase the cost of cigarettes by 10 percent each year working?

Ms Fox believes the price of cigarettes is still the biggest incentive to quit smoking and that it does seem to be having an effect.

Smoking rates have certainly declined in New Zealand, tumbling 25 percent since 1996 and 20 percent since 2006.

Between 2010 and 2014 there was a 6.4 percent drop each year, and The Ministry of Health’s aim is that by 2018 an estimated 58,000 adults will have quit in just two years, of which 27,000 will be Māori adults and 8,000 will be Pacific adults. 

Are e-cigarettes the secret weapon in helping Kiwis to quit?

Calkin Rameka is a Māori male in his 30s who has smoked for 15 years. He's tried e-cigarettes but they didn't work for him as they didn't satisfy his nicotine cravings.

"It's expensive to smoke but just as expensive to quit. I paid $140 for an e-cigarette and I regret it really, as it was a mid-level device.

"You have to pay $250 to $300 for a really high-end one and these are the ones the Government should be subsidising."

A woman smoking an E-cigarette
Should the Government be subsiding e-cigarettes? (Getty)

Ms Fox also believes high quality e-cigarettes should be subsidised by the Government just like nicotine patches and other smoking cessation aids.

So why are some Kiwis still smoking?

Ms Fox says a lot of her extended whanau still smoke because they use it to combat and relieve stress.

"We need to shift the mindset of the nation and aim to raise a smokefree generation. There needs to be more education in schools in the promotion of a smokefree life.

"We need legislation against the big tobacco companies to reduce their supply by ninety five percent in accordance with our smokefree goal by 2025."

Have cigarettes become too dangerous to sell?

With the ever-increasing cost of cigarettes in New Zealand they have quickly become a hot item not only to sell and make money from (For dairy owners, tobacco companies and the Government) - but also to steal.

A dairy being robbed in Auckland, New Zealand
Thieves steal cigarettes from a dairy in the Auckland suburb of Mt Roskill. (Supplied)

Dairy robberies are on the rise, and the main item thieves are targeting appear to be cigarettes.

How do dairy owners feel?

President of the Manukau Indian Association Veer Khar told Newshub police have failed to adequately deal with the situation, and that some dairy owners are looking at taking cigarettes off their shelves.

"The other option being explored is to ask the cigarette companies to arrange for the safety of the people selling their products," Mr Khan said.

Some families will continue to suffer

If the parents of vulnerable children want to continue smoking they will of course find the money to do so.

This is the real cost of hiking up the cost of cigarettes to encourage people to quit. Often those people who are in a poor economic situation are tobacco's biggest buyers.

Effect on tax and tourism

By 2025, the Government will have to decide if the prohibition of cigarettes is the only real way of making New Zealand truly smokefree, but by doing that, the politicians will miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars from its tax on cigarette sales.

An outright ban of cigarettes will also affect our booming tourism industry. Well over half of all Chinese tourists (our biggest market) smoke, and if they're not allowed to smoke cigarettes in New Zealand would they still want to travel here?