Why the government needs to give smokers a break

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I GET it. You all hate us. We’re the scum of the earth. The old gum on the bottom of your shoe. That bogan who just moved in next door. That ratty pair of underwear in the bottom of your gym bag.

But were humans too, you know. And if we want to smoke, we shouldnt be marginalised for it. Oh yes, Im going there. Im standing tall for smokers, Im waving the fag flag.

Yes, Australia, I admit it. I like to have a smoke. Go on, judge me for it. You probably already have.

Ever since the Federal Government introduced tax hikes on cigarettes in 2010, it hasnt looked back. Then there was the plain packaging and the whole banning smoking in public areas thing. Way to make us feel like the dregs of society, guys.

This Budget, we all knew it was coming. An easy way to make a few billion (a predicted $4.7b, to be exact) without the big backlash. In 2009-2010, revenue from excise and customs duty and GST on the sale of tobacco products exceeded $7 billion (!).

But now were facing four annual 12.5 per cent increases to cigarettes, were looking at forking out FORTY DOLLARS FOR ONE PACK OF CIGARETTES. Just sit there and think about it for a minute. Forty dollars. Whether youre a smoker or not, youve got to admit, thats a hell of a lot of money.

When I started smoking an expensive pack of cigs cost about $13. These days an expensive pack is about $32. Now were looking at $40. It just doesnt seem fair.

One woman, Joanne, had it right when she told the ABC were just a scapegoat for revenue raising.

Its not going to stop me. You either want to smoke or you dont. You go, girl. Smoke up a storm.

Im a fairly well-rounded guy. I pay my taxes. I contribute to society. Im not shooting ice or people in broad daylight. I have a great job. Oh, and private health insurance.

But the majority of smokers dont, because as Colin Mendelsohn, nicotine dependence and tobacco treatment specialist at the University of Sydney, says smokers are more likely to be socio-economically disadvantaged.

Taxing cigarettes is an easy get for the government; blame us for costing the public health system billions of dollars for our own poor choices. Boo hoo.

Yet overseas studies have described these claims as entirely gibbering nonsense.

And according to the i New York Times, Dutch researchers found that the health costs of thin and healthy people in adulthood are more expensive than those of either fat people or smokers.

Hear me out here.

The model relied on cost of illness data in the Netherlands in 2003, and while researchers found obesity racked up the biggest health costs, fatties and smokers die way earlier than skinny, healthy peeps and therefore, cost less to treat in the long run. So the more we smoke, the quicker we die, and the less cost in the long run. Makes sense.

Lung cancer is a cheap disease to treat because people dont survive very long, said Pieter van Baal, an economist at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.

But if they are old enough to get Alzheimers one day, they may survive longer and cost more.

This is backed by the Cancer Council Victorias comprehensive online resource, Tobacco in Australia, which clearly stands for the prevention of smoking, states: Smoking increases some health care costs because of the higher prevalence of diseases caused by smoking (in smokers and ex-smokers who are still alive). These are the gross health care costs attributable to smoking.

However, certain other health care costs are lower than they otherwise would be because of the premature deaths of many people who smoked over the past 40 years. These people did not live to use health care that they otherwise would have.

The number of smokers in Australia has slowly dwindled over the years, from approximately 25 per cent in the early 90s to around 13 per cent now, or three million.

But its doubtful well ever live in a smoke-free Australia, lets get real here.

While I dont want to be a smoker for the rest of my life, I like that I have the choice to make that decision for myself. Not everyone will be as lucky as me when the prices go even further up. They simply wont be able to afford it.

But what happens when you cant tax cigarettes any more? Where will the government look to fill those budget black holes then?

Better stock up on those casks of wine now, people, because alcohol, heres looking at you.

Nanny state, here we come.