Tobacco tax turmoil

By Leah Te Whata

To keep the tobacco tax or to throw it out?  That's the million dollar question as the Ministry of Health reviews its impact on smokers, their families and crime.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters says, "There's always time to scrub and excise if that's what you want to do.  We're going to wait until we get the benefit of the full review and then we're going to make up our mind."

Cigarette prices have been rising 10 percent per year but Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) programme manager Boyd Broughton says Māori smoking rates remain stubbornly high.

"Raising taxes is not an effective strategy."

The tax earns nearly $2bil each year.  National Tobacco Control Advocacy Manager Mihi Blair says the government only gives 3% of it back to the cause.

"It's the reinvestment back into the services, that's the real issue."

Founding member of the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal, Tariana Turia says the government needs to ban the sale of tobacco altogether.

"If the government wants to be genuine about the harm caused by cigarette smoking, 5,000 people dying a year, they would stop the sale of that substance in this country."

Broughton disagrees, "If we stop the sale, crime rates will increase."

And disagreement continues over whether or not vaping is an effective alternative.

Blair says, "We support vaping as a pathway to quit, it's just another cessation tool that our people can utilise but it just definitely needs to be regulated."

Broughton says, "At the moment, cigarettes are more accessible than vapes."

Turia says, "While vaping may be a lesser evil, it still is another addiction."

The Ministry of Health review is due to be completed by November.