Parliament is yet again playing into the hands of gangs, and boosting their place as the third player in the cigarette market with new legislation targeting smokers and dairy owners.
The first reading of Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Bill is expected later today. The Bill creates an absurd, harmful, and experimental regime for the supply of legal cigarettes.
The Bill proposes three key changes: drastically slash the number of tobacco retail outlets, impose nonsensical new age restrictions, and implement the world’s lowest limits on nicotine.
"This legislation is a huge win for the gangs," says Union spokesperson Jordan Williams.
“First they hike the taxes to more than four times the actual health costs of smoking – turning smokers into cash cows and leading to the very smash and grabs on dairies we warned about. Now they want to limit nicotine so smokers will need to smoke many times the amount of tar (and tax) for the same hit.”
"We know smokers won't smoke low-nicotine cigarettes; the nicotine is the entire reason they smoke. We already have low-nicotine cigarettes in New Zealand and no one smokes them — they're called herbal cigarettes. It is far more likely that those smokers who haven't already been pushed to the black-market from exorbitant excise taxes will finally make the shift to tax-free, unregulated, and high-nicotine cigarettes."
"Right now, around 15% of smoked tobacco in New Zealand is from the black-market. These proposed regulatory taxes will see our members who smoke visiting tinny houses just for a full-bodied cigarette. It will turn lawful smokers into tinny house users. Talk about playing into the gangs' hands – who don’t pay tax, import illegal cigarettes, and certainly won’t be checking age and IDs.”
“Dairy owners are right to be concerned. The Bill will cut the number of retailers from more than 6000 down to approximately 500. That is only a fraction of the number of postcodes in the country leaving many communities without a tobacco retailer – except the local mob."
Also in the legislation is a plan to create a 'smokefree generation' by banning anyone born after 1 January 2009 from ever buying cigarettes.
"This is simply absurd. By 2040, a 31 year old will be slapped with a conviction and a $50,000 fine for supplying their 30 year old mate with a cigarette. We have tried prohibition in the past with many harmful substances, including alcohol, and know that people continue to use these substances in a far more dangerous, less regulated manner."
"The Green Party is right to have raised concerns with this legislation because like us they know that cigarettes are better legal, taxed, and regulated than they are in a raging black-market that only benefits the gangs. We look forward to them sticking to principle and opposing the Bill at first reading."
In 2019 the black-market for cigarettes resulted in $287.4 million in lost tax revenue. Less accessibility of the legal product in terms of price and regulation sends people towards this illegal market where we have no way of avoiding the worst outcomes.
"It's time for the Government to go back to the drawing board and rethink the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan. After all, when smokers aren't paying for their own healthcare costs through excise, it's the non-smoking taxpayer who will end up footing the bill."
Disclosure: 3.5% of the Taxpayers’ Union annual budget is from industry members, a subset of which includes the tobacco industry – who are among New Zealand’s largest taxpayers.