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New tobacco tax strategy needed to reduce smoking

Clocktower.

Friday 29 January 2010 4:00pm

Efforts to reduce smoking in New Zealand have been undermined since 2001 by increased tobacco affordability due to increased average incomes and a failure to raise tobacco taxes above inflation, according to researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington.

The result is that tobacco consumption has not decreased in recent years despite the introduction of other measures, such as graphic pack warnings and the banning of smoking in bars and clubs.

Around 21% of the population still smoke, causing over 4000 deaths annually, and $1.5 billion in health costs.

“While the existing measures, such as smokefree legislation and improved quit support, are very important, if tobacco is becoming relatively more affordable, then these efforts are undermined and smoking is unlikely to decline, as price relative to income is a critical factor in the NZ market,” says researcher Professor Richard Edwards.

He says this is particularly the case with teenage smokers and those on low incomes who are very price sensitive, and mainly smoke roll-your-own cigarettes.

The research, just published in the NZ Medical Journal, also found that the failure to increase tobacco tax above inflation is against majority public opinion, and such increases are supported by most smokers, provided additional revenue raised is used to fund better measures to reduce smoking.

Less than 5% of the $1billion from tax on tobacco sales is used for smoking cessation measures and the researchers believe far more could be used to help people to quit or prevent children and young people starting.

Professor Richard Edwards, says: “Most smokers want to quit. They could be assisted by better help and support that’s funded through tobacco tax increases.”

‘This help could include more prime-time mass media campaigns and greater Quitline capacity. Tobacco tax increases targeted at helping people to quit have been successful here and overseas, and could help reduce harm to the health of New Zealanders due to smoking and reduce health inequalities.’

‘At a time when alcohol price policy is being reviewed, the government could consider putting in place an effective health-driven tobacco price strategy, with increases above the rate of inflation, extending beyond the current episodic and ad- hoc revenue raising decisions.’

This study has funding support from the Health Research Council.

For further information contact

Professor Richard Edwards
Department of Public Health,
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel 64 4 385 5541 Ext 5089
Email richard.edwards@otago.ac.nz

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