The increased cost of cigarettes is not just a tax or health issue, it is also one of justice and compassion.
The people hit hardest by the Rudd government’s 25 per cent increase on cigarettes, are the ones least able to afford it and the least able to choose the alternative – giving up.
There is little sympathy for smokers when tobacco is slugged with new taxes, the common cry being, ‘let them give up’.
But if you have grown up with smoking from before birth, had every significant person in your life as a smoker and if you have beaten off various other addictions with only nicotine to beat, that cry is offensive and simplistic. Add to this list social isolation, unemployment, mental illness, poverty and violence, and you might understand better why telling people to ‘just give up’ is not good enough.
I know many people who have, over a long period of time, beaten serious addictions, usually well after these addictions have destroyed their life. In almost every case, smoking is the one thing they cannot overcome.
When you live on a disability pension or minimum wage, are locked into nicotine addiction and with no sensible access to support for quitting, a new tobacco tax may as well be an arbitrary fine levied on you – just for being alive.
That’s why I’m urging support for independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon’s call to other Senators to block the Government’s recent tax hike on cigarettes unless more money raised from the tax is put towards helping smokers quit.
While the tax has already been introduced, it must be ratified by the Senate within 12 months. Senator Xenophon would like to see subsidies for nicotine patches, money for counselling services and more spending on health awareness campaigns.
‘My plea to the Government, to the Opposition, to my colleagues on the cross benches, is that just a little more money – in the vicinity of $100 million over the next four years, two per cent of this increase – could go a long way in assisting people to quit smoking for the Government to achieve its targets,’ he said.
So come on Mr Rudd, Mr Abbott, Mr Brown and Mr Fielding – do something for the least in our society to take another step towards a decent life.
If you put these resources in my hands, I’ll make sure those that really need them get the chance to give up and be free of this destructive habit. PH