Up in smoke

18 April 2010

Written by: Christopher Scanlon

I smoke around 100 cigarettes a week. My week average spending on cigarettes is $50. The Federal Government’s National Preventative Health Taskforce has proposed adding $6.50 a pack (over a three year period) in tax which would bring the price of a 30 pack of cigarettes up to a whopping $20.

Since the brand I smoke retails at 25 for $12.50 — an increase would bring them up to around the same price. That would increase my weekly ciggy tab to 80 gobsmacking dollars.

Eighty dollars.

For that, I could go to the cinema every night of the week and still have money over for a snack. Or I could buy 33.3 short blacks at one of my local coffee shops. Or, I could take 21.6 two-hour trips on Melbourne’s public transport. Since the health hazards of smoking obviously aren’t scary enough for me to kick the habit, the savings along should be a  motivation in itself to lay off the ‘darts.

As for any addict, though, it’s not really about the money. My annual tobacco cost is already $2600 ($50×52= $2600). Multiply that by the years I have been doing it — 10 years — that’s $26,000 (since I’m not an economist, I won’t consider the fluctuating prices and taxes). Wow, that’s an intimidating number.

A heavy tax increase might not be enough to get heavy smokers to lay off the cancer sticks. It might, however, scare off new curious teens and ‘party’ smokers.

Smoking is optional; no one holds a gun to your head and makes you suck down toxic smoke in to your lungs. The Federal Government claims that smokers cost the community approximately $31 billion a year. So it’s quite self explanatory that money needed for Rudd’s new health care reform should come out of the tobacco soiled pockets of the smokers?

While some smokers have labelled the proposed tax increase as ‘unfair’, a Newspoll survey found that 88 per cent of Australians support the tax rise if the money goes towards the health system — a system that the average smoker has a high probability of using. And if the Federal Government uses the tax as they say they will, this would cover about two-thirds of the funding needed for the new health reform.

People may shake in their boots when they hear the words ‘tax’ and ‘increase’ in the same sentence, but when you look at the bigger picture, Australia is already behind when it comes to cigarette pricing in developed countries. In fact, Australia has a 68 per cent tobacco tax whilst the median in the developed world lies between 75 and 80 per cent.

Nevertheless, a tax increase like this will have a hard impact on the poor.

And to all you wholesome non-smokers out there, get off your high horses; quitting is not as easy as you might think.

Personally, I’m not sure how the cost increase will affect me. The price hike is scary, especially for a student who already has nightmares about funds, or lack thereof. I do want to give up smoking, it’s just a matter of when, but hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.

Lisa Rosman is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.

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