Budget Buster: Dodging the Government's tobacco cash grab

A person smoking a pack of cigarettes a day could save up to $10,000 a year growing their own tobacco.
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A person smoking a pack of cigarettes a day could save up to $10,000 a year growing their own tobacco.

OPINION: Beat the tax hikes and you won't have to watch your money go up in smoke.

Growing your own tobacco is surprisingly easy, and perfectly legal.

The way the Government milks addicts for cash would make the most hardened drug dealer feel ashamed.

Tobacco taxes have just gone up another 10 per cent, with three more jumps to come in the following years. By 2020, a pack of smokes will cost a staggering $30.

While the hikes are supposedly aimed at stamping out smoking, the truth is they're a cash grab. Taxes have already doubled over the last five years, but the number of people smoking has barely changed.

Smokers pay three times as much as they actually cost the health system. Because they're pariahs, no-one cares that they're blatantly being exploited.

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The latest tax hikes alone will bring in an extra $425 million of revenue. It's a genius move from the Government's point of view. They get to pretend they're taking a noble stand, while screwing enormous amounts of cash out of people who are hooked on the product.

Naturally, the poor get it the worst. Struggling families will have less food on the table, less money for the power bill, and inevitably more debt.

The obvious response is to quit, but clearly it's not that easy or everyone would have done it. Patches and gum have been available for ages, but around 15 per cent of the population still smokes.

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One option is to switch to e-cigarettes. The long-term health effects aren't known, but they're estimated to be 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco. They're also vastly cheaper. You're allowed to import e-cigarette liquid for personal use, and a week's supply only costs a few dollars.

The tax hikes have poured petrol on the black market for tobacco. It's easy to buy 'chop-chop' almost anywhere in the country, but of course I couldn't endorse illegal behaviour.

Instead, why not just grow your own? You can't sell it or give it away, but it's perfectly legal to grow up to 15kgs of tobacco a year for personal use. It's surprising that more people don't do this, because it's reasonably easy.

New Zealand has a good climate for tobacco, which thrives in most soils, deals well with heat, rain and frost, and is resistant to most pests. Each plant should yield about 100 cigarettes or so. Besides a bit of space in the garden, you'll need a shed, garage or somewhere else dry to hang the leaves to cure.

A pack-a-day smoker stands to save something like $10,000 a year. Seeds are only a few dollars, which means the only real cost is time and effort. You've already got yellow fingers - might as well work on your green thumbs too.

Do you grow your own tobacco? Share your tips and techniques in the comments.

Got a burning money question? Email Budget Buster at richard.meadows@thedeepdish.org, or hit him up on Twitter at @MeadowsRichard. You can also find links to previous Budget Busters here.

 - Sunday News

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