The Federal Government’s latest increase in cigarette prices will do little to deter smokers in regional Australia from quitting the deadly habit.
For a pack a day smoker, the latest 12.5% increase in tobacco excise tax is a $12,500 yearly burden. An incredibly costly tax for regional and remote communities who have faced devastating bushfires and the debilitating economic impacts of COVID-19 in the last year.
Smoking rates in regional and remote areas are twice as high as in major cities. Despite cigarette prices tripling over the last decade, smoking rates remain alarmingly high in the bush and quitting support alarmingly low.
Recent data from The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare suggests as many as 70% of current Aussie smokers want to quit. But many cannot quit no matter how high the price.
Safer and effective alternatives like nicotine vaping remain highly inaccessible for regional and remote Australians. Currently, the only way to access e-cigarettes is via a doctor’s prescription which most rural doctors are not willing to provide. This leaves many smokers with no other option but to continue smoking.
Vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking, and around 90% cheaper. A no-brainer for cash-strapped smokers who have tried and failed every other method to quit.
Instead of bolstering the national piggy bank with tobacco excise duty – less than 0.15 per cent of which is spent in helping smokers quit – the government should look to countries like the UK and US, where smoking rates are declining faster than ever with the help of vaping.
Current tobacco legislation squeezing smokers who have no other option. This needs to change. The Australian government needs to stop punishing regional Australia and support smokers in their transition away from the lethal habit.
Dr Colin Mendelsohn MB BS (Hons)
Founding Chairman, Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association