Smoking rates increasing in Australia, despite plain packaging and hyper-taxation

From an APP member

Recent figures revealed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, are showing that despite all of the efforts by successive Australian governments (whether Coalition or Labor) to reduce the rates of smoking in Australia, the reverse is now happening. Australians are now actually smoking more.

Expenditure on tobacco products had been in steady decline for a generation, but in the final quarter of 2017, they had risen by 2.6 per cent compared to the final quarter of 2016.

In the words of health academic Colin Mendelsohn from the University of NSW: “This is a worrying reversal of a long-term trend … We have to accept our punitive methods of taxing and coercing smokers are no longer working and we need other strategies”.

This means that despite the increasing hyper-taxation of legal tobacco products in Australia, the public being constantly saturated with negative messages about the dangers of smoking, and the federal government forcing tobacco companies to sell their products in plain-packaging accompanied by graphic health warnings, the goal of reducing smoking in Australia is actually seeing things go the other way.

It seems that the Nanny State and its various harebrained schemes are not working. Instead, the hyper-taxation of tobacco products has produced an inevitable thriving black market in tobacco, as illegally imported cigarettes and illegally locally-grown “chop chop” have now become very widespread and seemingly easily accessible for Australian smokers.

It seems to be yet another case where governments think they’re the solution, but their stupid, impractical methodology just ends up creating even bigger problems. And then it just spirals, as police are asked to spend ever more resources on cracking down on the naughty, pesky black marketeers, whose illegal activity is denying the government their precious tax revenue they would otherwise wrench from smokers.

The best solution is to have sensible governments that have sensible, pragmatic policies on smoking. That means not demonising, harassing, or persecuting smokers with crippling taxes. It means sensible excise levels, sensible (not ridiculously over-the-top) health warnings, and allowing tobacco companies to display their brand logos and market their brands in sensible, limited ways.

References:
$16bn up in smoke as tobacco use rises for first time in decade”, The Australian, 12 March 2018 (Adam Creighton)
Tobacco tax fueling black market crime”, MacroBusiness, 7 August 2017 (Leith van Onselen)

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