Albanese government to raise tobacco tax by 5% a year to make smoking ‘more unattractive’

Albanese government to raise tobacco tax by 5% a year to make smoking ‘more unattractive’

Health minister announces new tax measures shortly after revealing sweeping reforms to crack down on vaping

The Albanese government will increase the tax on tobacco by 5% per year over the next three years, the health minister has revealed, alongside a suite of measures to crack down on vaping.

But he said Australia has no plans to follow the path of New Zealand by outlawing tobacco smoking for the next generation.

The Cancer Council and Quit have jointly expressed “huge relief” at new reforms to stop non-prescription nicotine vapes and non-nicotine vapes at the border. The opposition leader cautiously supported the measures, which include plain packaging laws and stopping the sale of vaping products in stores.

The tax increase on tobacco will also commence from September 1.

“We know that a higher price cigarette is a more unattractive cigarette,” health minister Mark Butler said on Tuesday.

“We will also align the tax treatment of tobacco products so that products like roll- your-own tobacco and manufactured sticks are taxed equally.”

Speaking at the National Press Club, Butler said the tax changes will raise an additional $3.3bn over the coming four years.

Butler said the vaping reforms will include removing the restrictions on prescribing so that all doctors can write a script for those who need vaping to quit smoking.

Quit director Matthew Scanlon said the organisation had at times felt “powerless to stop the wave of nicotine addiction”, with children as young as 13 calling the Quitline for help to stop vaping.

“The relief comes from the fact this puts Australia at the forefront of tobacco control again because vaping was really about the resurgence of the tobacco industry,” Scanlon said.

“Prior to this announcement, it was terrifying to see that after years of successful work getting smoking rates down, we were looking at a new public health crisis with the industry once again addicting a new generation to nicotine.”

People who vape are three more times likely to take up smoking, he said.

“Nicotine levels in vapes often far exceed those of cigarettes and the huge difference between the products is the way in which vapes are marketed towards and accessed by children. They appeal to the youth market, who are the most vulnerable and understand harms the least.”

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday that vaping “is a significant problem in our country”.

“It needs to be addressed. We would support the government in sensible measures that saw a reduction in vaping rates.”

But he said more detail was needed on the reforms.

“I don’t want to see those smoking rates go back up. I don’t want to see vaping as a gateway into smoking,” said Dutton, who is a former health minister. “We will support sensible measures, but we haven’t seen anything yet by way of detail.”

The reforms are aimed at stymieing the black market that is allowing children to easily access vapes. Schools have reported this is the number one behavioural issue teachers face as children addicted to nicotine struggle to get through a class without vaping, leading to jittering and anxiety.

An analysis of international research, conducted for the government by the Australian National University, found nicotine use in children and adolescents can lead to lifelong addiction issues as well as concentration and learning difficulties.

Prof Emily Banks, the lead author of that report and a leading tobacco control expert, saidthe evidence pointed to the need for policies that prevent the use of vapes in non-smokers, particularly young people.

“What is driving the use in young people is first of all the widespread availability, and also the fact that industry is targeting young people in terms of the flavours and marketing of the products themselves. It is great to see evidence-based measures finally put in place.”

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said he expects states will need to contribute money to fund the reforms, on top of the $234m that Butler flagged in the federal budget.

“We’ll engage in good faith,” Andrews told reporters on Tuesday. “I’m sure that the commonwealth government will be planning to push some of those costs on to us.”

Victoria’s opposition health spokesperson, Georgie Crozier, backed the reforms and said she hoped the state government would cooperate with the commonwealth.

In October last year, the Cancer Council Victoria released a report that found 77,200 people in Victoria who had never smoked were currently vaping, of whom more than half (57.7%) were under 25.

Source: The Guardian