AUSTRALIA has the most expensive cigarettes in the world. And today, they just got even pricier.
From today, tobacco excise on cigarettes will rise by 13 per cent and the price of an average pack of ciggies will go up $2.70 to $35.20. We're fast approaching the day when a pack of smokes will cost more than a carton of beer.
Ostensibly, the Australian Government wants people to stop smoking, and that's why they're jacking up prices. Not wanting to seem cynical, I'd suggest an additional reason might be that we have a massive deficit crisis in this country, and tax hikes on cigarettes will bring in additional billions for the federal government.
We are now well past the point where an increase in the price of cigarettes can meaningfully get people to quit smoking.
Until very recently, I was a desperately poor chain smoker. While I was working spirit-crushing jobs (including, but not limited to, door-to-door Foxtel sales in Port Augusta), I would look forward to smoking because there wasn't much else to look forward to.
In the past few months, however, things have started to pick up for yours truly. Personally, professionally, and financially, I've never been better. I even moved out of my parents' house, in case you were wondering. It is only now that life feels so very good that I've felt up to the challenge of making myself feel so very bad, by quitting cigarettes.
It seems counterintuitive, but the less affordable it is for you to smoke, the more likely you are to buy cigarettes.
Why? Countless studies have tried to come up with an answer. Poor, vulnerable smokers have, apparently, been brainwashed by advertisements, suffered pressure from their peers, and possibly have no free will of their own. All of that might be true, but psychologists tend to overlook smoking's most obvious cause: people smoke because smoking is wonderful.
In the short run at least, cigarettes make you happier. To misquote Thomas Aquinas, sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a pack of Winnie Blues.
Ciggies have countless wonderful traits. For one, smoke is itself beautiful. That is why, despite the inherent dangers, Catholics have swung incense around for hundreds of years. And what of the social advantages! Whether you're at a party, or at work, the finest conversationalists invariably congregate in the smoker's corner.
In short, punching a dart is pleasurable, meditative and a great way to meet new people. Sadly, medical professionals seem quite confident that one of smoking's most common side effects is premature death.
For me, tobacco's virtues no longer compete with the prospect of remaining alive.
I used to smoke because I was willing to endanger myself. The perpetually well-to-do often have trouble understanding why anybody, say, smokes cigarettes (which definitely kill you), or plays the pokies (which definitely rip you off), or drinks Label 5 Blended Scotch whisky by the bottle in the morning hours (which definitely curbs your productivity).
What these narrow minded, active wear wearing, Audi driving, espresso-latte-drinking people do not know, is that nobody worries about cancer in their sixties if they can't figure out how to pay their rent next Tuesday. You don't think about the future if you don't think you have one.
People don't smoke because they can afford it - they smoke because they don't want to stop. That's why, despite the astronomic cost of cigarettes, smoking rates in Australia remain comparable to the rest of the developed world.
Smoking rates in California are lower than they are in Australia, despite cigarettes being a quarter of the price. When you look at the countries most culturally akin to Australia, like Canada, New Zealand and the UK, you find that their cigarette taxes are far lower, but Australia's percentage of daily smokers is almost identical - if not higher.
It is unhelpful, even immoral, to keep jacking up the price of cigarettes. As well as imposing immense financial strain for vulnerable people, high cigarette prices encourage people to turn to the black market, and fund organised crime.
Anti-smoking activists, overly keen to congratulate themselves for lowering the sale of cigarettes, doubt that there's a booming black market for tobacco. This is utter nonsense. I speak from personal experience: it is dead easy to buy cheap, illegal cigarettes.
We shouldn't further disadvantage people whose disadvantage drives them to smoke. Charging pack-a-day smokers in excess of $16,000 a year isn't the answer. If we want to stop the causes of smoking, lowering the price of cigarettes might actually be a good place to start.
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