When the Government passed its Fiscal Budget on 26 May, it announced a hike in the pricing of tobacco products. The pricing it was said, would increase to N.Z.$30 by 2020. This follows a pattern over the last several years of progressively tightening up the sale and use of tobacco products and occurs against a backdrop of legal cases being taken by British and American Tobacco, Phillip Morris, among others.
Initially when the Government started putting the pressure on smokers several years ago, I was delighted that they were going to make their lights fund the programmes and treatment for people with smoking related illnesses. Yes, the smoking of tobacco products is expensive to the health system. Yes the habit is an expensive one to individual bank accounts – it takes away money that could be used to feed and clothe children, pay for their school trips and other important things.
Banning smoking or trying to tax it any further may start to intrude on to people’s civil liberties. At age 18, people are considered to be old enough to make an informed decision on the use of tobacco products. It begins to bear a resemblance to attempts to shut down prostitution – a moralistic war that New Zealand fortunately saw the futility of when it legalized prostitution. We refuse to ban prostitution because of some very obvious reasons, such it will drive the sex industry underground and just make enforcement harder. People were concerned that crimes of a sexual nature will end up being worse and that they might not be reported because of fear among sex workers that they might be prosecuted. Thus there are worse things that could happen than deciding not to progress any further against smokers. For all the many valid concerns about lighting up on tobacco products, there are many worse things that could be ingested. Because many of these other substances have been linked to crime, both organized and petty offending one could argue that these pose bigger problems. Whilst it is true that cigarettes are often a target for offenders whilst holding up service stations, dairies and so forth part of the problem is they are often stolen to supply demand on the black market.
Part of the problem, like with any other activity that is discouraged by the State and society at large, is that there will always be a small percentage of people that no matter what one says to them will continue to smoke. Nothing will stop them, including limitations being set on where smokers can smoke in public.
For these reasons, and not because I have any real sympathy for the tobacco industry, I think this is where we should stop and consider whether there will be a justifiable social gain from banning smoking.