Tobacco Tax “beyond tipping point” – Dr Marewa Glover

By Talisa Kupenga

Smoking cessation expert Dr Marewa Glover the continual hike in tobacco tax is a move towards criminalising smokers and drives them to commit crimes like the robbery of the Z petrol station in Wellington earlier this week. 

Dr Glover says she used to support the tobacco tax but now it's beyond tipping point.

"This is a way of taking money from the poor so you can give with one hand and you take with the other we really need to stop these tax increases."

Members of the public say tax increases won't cure addiction.

Smoker Zarne Snowden says "we all have our own rights, Government shouldn't be telling us to give our smoke habit up because they don't want us to smoke anymore."

Former smoker turned vaper Shay Govan says "they should not be increasing the [cost] to make people quit they should actually be understanding the person's addiction towards it."

Non-smoker Moss Bioletti says the tax isn’t the answer.

“Once you're addicted to cigarettes, my brother quit smoking, but he still has that sort of urge that niggle to smoke. You can always kind of be sucked in at any moment."

Dr Glover says the price increase criminalises smokers, unfairly targets Māori and Pasifika groups and pushes people to get involved in a black market.

"It's driving people to commit crime, it's not that they're criminals they don't want to do it, but in order to get tobacco they're looking on the black market, people are being driven to get involved in the black market to grow tobacco and sell it which is illegal and of course buying it even on the black market puts you at risk."

Dairy owners are concerned and say customers aren't happy with the price hike.

Some have asked for pay-later accounts to get their cigarette fix and when refused some could become aggressive and even violent.

Dr Glover says, "These robberies that are happening with dairies are absolutely driven by these very high prices. Of course, some people are being injured in that. A lot of young people are being caught and it's become a new kind of gateway to prison for youth and I am very concerned about that because that disproportionately affects Māori youth."

The tobacco tax has climbed by nearly 10-percent each year since 2010.

Glover says price hikes were not deterring consumers and a more holistic approach is needed.