why i support the labor government’s tobacco excise
As I’m sure many of you are aware by now, the Labor government has proposed a tobacco excise – one that will raise the price of tobacco by 12.5% each year for four years. The backlash to this has been full of vitriol (my personal favourite is the one published here that compares the current Government’s attitude to health to that of Hitler’s).
I just don’t get why people are knicker-knotting all over the place.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death. It kills a whopping 15,000 people a year. It causes a multitude of health problems, and were it a product that didn’t have the lobby groups (and money) behind it that it does, it would have been made illegal a long time ago. As Andrew Leigh said in The Canberra Times, ‘No other legal product – when consumed as directed – ends up killing half its users’.
The argument against this tax is that this is not a nanny-state; that people are perfectly entitled to do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt others, and the government should stick its nose out of its citizens’ personal business – which would be a convincing argument if smoking actually fell into the category of ‘doesn’t hurt others’. While many non-smokers get outraged about the cost of smoking, or rather the cost of the health complications that arise from smoking, to the taxpayer, I am lax to get behind this argument. We can all be a bit irresponsible with our health and I like to think that the tax I pay goes towards the roads, schools, hospitals and medical care that I enjoy as part of a functioning society.
I am not against smoking for economic reasons, even if that it is the sole reason the government has proposed the tax (though call me naïve but I like to think the government cares about our health). I am against it because the impact of tobacco spreads far beyond the smoker herself. Smoking, or rather, the health detriments of smoking, also affects the family and friends of the smoker.
Last year, at age 53, my father was diagnosed with Stage 3 prostate cancer. Luckily radiation seemed to do the trick, but in those months of uncertainty my family was a wreck. I have also seen my step-grandmother die painfully due to liver cancer. Unless you experience the impacts of this disease for yourself, there is no way to know just how heartbreaking it can be. So if you have the option of preventing, or at least limiting your chances of going through the ordeal that cancer is, then I say grab it with both hands and don’t let go.
I understand that it is not that easy. Smoking is addictive, and after seeing my mother try and fail to give up multiple times, it is not a simple matter of “willpower”. A lot of external support needs to be given – both in the form of family, friends and the medical profession.
But raising the tax on tobacco also helps people to kick the habit. Since a tax on tobacco was introduced in 1977, the percentage of adults who smoke on a daily basis has gone from 37 to 16 percent. Or for more conclusive evidence, since the excise in tobacco was introduced in 2010, consumption has dropped by around 11 percent.
It’s not rocket science: when smoking is less affordable, less people can afford to keep or take up the habit.
The Cancer Council has estimated that this tax will prevent up to 100,000 premature deaths. And if this tax saves only one person’s life, as I’m sure that it will, then that is enough of a benefit for me to be behind this tax one hundred percent.
(As a sidenote, I would also like to make the point that Labor stopped taking donations from tobacco companies nearly a decade ago, while the Liberals are still accepting the money. Just a little pre-election trivia for you.)