World No Tobacco Day exposes Big Public Health’s failure
Today marks “World No Tobacco Day”, a World Health Organization initiative to draw attention to the dangers of tobacco, what governments and health agencies are doing to combat it, and to encourage smokers to quit. Unfortunately for Australian smokers who are struggling to give up the smokes, there’s little to celebrate. The same government that’s bungling the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is failing in this avenue too.
The 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey reveals that the annual rate of smoking cessation among Australians over 14 shrank by nearly half between 2013 and 2019, despite a slew of tobacco control measures, including massive excise hikes and plain packaging, being introduced under the Rudd and Gillard governments. This should raise questions in a country that, until 2012, could’ve been considered a world leader in tobacco control with a sustained long-term decline of 0.46% over the 20 prior years.
Unfortunately, the constant spike in legal cigarette prices driven by excise hikes means that smokers who can’t quit are losing a bigger slice of their family budgets to the government every year as their health continues to worsen. It’s just as well since the profits our government takes off smokers’ addictions help finance unprecedented pork-barreling of the kind seen in this year’s federal budget.
Not that all these smokers are even paying taxes. The proportion of smokers using illicit unbranded loose tobacco has risen by a whopping 37% since 2012 as price spikes on legal products drive addicts to the black market. With the global illicit tobacco trade being largely driven by criminal syndicates engaged in activities like human trafficking and even terrorism, these lost revenues aren’t exactly going towards schools and hospitals. It seems like those in charge have learned nothing from the bootleggers and baptists of the prohibition era.
Tobacco taxes have their place in deterring smoking. But they can only go so far when addicts don’t have alternatives. And that’s where the Australian government has let smokers down the most.