Increased Taxes and Plain Packaging of Cigarettes to Further Reduce Smoking Rates

Increased Taxes and Plain Packaging of Cigarettes to Further Reduce Smoking Rates
Smoking rates in Australia have declined dramatically over the last 30 years with around 15% of the general adult population currently smoking.

Despite this decline, the impact of tobacco on individuals, society and the country’s economy remains high: in Australia smoking is the largest single preventable cause of death and disease. It kills more people than alcohol, other drugs, murder, suicide, road crashes, rail crashes, air crashes, poisoning, drowning, fires, falls, lightning, electrocution, snakes, spiders and sharks combined. Each year, smoking costs Australia $31.5 billion in social (including health) and economic costs.

Most smokers do want to quit. At any time about 60% of smokers are thinking about or preparing to make a quit attempt. Australian health promotion advocates and governments have enacted legislation to bring smoking rates down even further.

If you are a smoker, it is a good time to consider a ‘new chance’ quit attempt as the price of cigarettes has just gone up by 12.5% from September. The 12.5% tax increase is the second of four annual tax increases on tobacco totalling in approximately 60% increase in the price of cigarettes by 1 December 2016. Following these, the average Australian smoker will spend nearly $26,000 on cigarettes over the next four years.

3-5% of unassisted quit attempts are successful, but quit success rate rise to 25-30% with counselling and support from health professionals and specialised services like Quitline

Price increases, such as those resulting from a tax rise, are a proven and effective strategy for reducing tobacco use. However, nicotine is a powerful addiction and most smokers need repeated attempts to quit.

“Last year’s tax increase resulted in a spike in quit attempts, but most of these were unsuccessful,” said Dr Colin Mendelsohn, Vice President of the Australian Association of Smoking Cessation Professionals. “We suggest smokers seek additional support in their quit attempts and not be discouraged by setbacks; each progressive quit attempt marks an important step forward.”

Dr Avigdor Zask from NNSW Health Promotion says that only 3-5% of unassisted quit attempts are successful, but quit success rate rise to 25-30% with counselling and support from health professionals and specialised services like Quitline (free call 13QUIT/137848), as well as appropriate use of stop-smoking medications, especially for nicotine dependent smokers.

Heather Allan, Chief Executive Officer of the Lung Foundation Australia said: “There are immediate health benefits to quitting smoking at any age. Stopping smoking decreases the risk of lung and other cancers, heart attack, stroke and chronic disease compared with continued smoking. “

Another legislative initiative to reduce smoking rates, which has been in the news this week, is the plain packaging of cigarettes. First, the national drug strategy household survey results – that includes the first year following the introduction of plain packaging – confirmed a continued significant decline in national daily smoking rates from 15.1% in 2010 to 12.8% in 2013. Then secondly, there was a study in British Medical Journal open on the impact of plain packaging on businesses http://press.psprings.co.uk/Open/august/bmjopen005873.pdf
Contrary to tobacco companies’ scare tactics and funded research, plain packaging did not result in sustained increased handling time, nor was it associated with a reduced proportion of purchases in small mixed business and increased proportion of supermarket purchases. Additionally, there were no changes in the percentage of smokers who reported buying cheaper Asian brands or of smokers reporting current use of unbranded illicit cigarettes.

Governments around the world, including the UK and Canada are now considering following Australia’s lead and introducing similar legislation.

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