ACT wants 75 percent cut in tobacco tax

  • 01/01/2019

Tobacco tax will be hiked another 10 percent today, in a long-running bid to make New Zealand smoke-free by 2020.

But the initiative, backed by both the Labour and National-led Governments, is being labelled an utter failure by opponents.

ACT leader David Seymour says it's only encouraged a few people to quit.

"Thirty-five percent of Māori for instance are still smoking, paying exorbitant taxes - twice as high as they were five years ago - and for what benefit? Same people smoking, they've just got less money."

Quitline chief executive Andrew Slater partly agrees, saying people are more likely to quit because of family or health, rather than cost, which comes in fourth.

He's still expecting New Year's Day to be one of Quitline's busiest.

"We'll be expecting double the number of people contacting us over this month, and that will start with a huge influx today."

ACT leader David Seymour says the Government should try different approaches.

"In a free market you have lots of new products that make it safer to ingest nicotine - I'm talking about heat-not-burn, I'm talking about vaping."

Mr Slater says he backs vaping as another option.

"We think it's a great alternative for people who have smoked for a long time, or have tried several times in the past to quit."

Mr Seymour says the tax should have a set level of the additional healthcare costs smokers require - much less than the $3800 he says the average smoker currently pays.

"I'd like to see tobacco taxes set at a level of additional health care smokers require. That level of tax would probably be a quarter of what it is now… One in 10 lower income households are going without the basics in order to buy tobacco."

The latest figures from the Ministry of Health show smoking has dropped from 20.1 percent of adults to 13.8 percent in 2018. Māori rates have dropped from 42 percent to 32.5 percent over the same timeframe - Mr Seymour's 35 percent claim appears to be relating to figures from 2016/17.

The long-term health effects of vaping remain unknown, with recent research suggesting it could be worse than initially thought.