Tobacco too dear? We'll grow our own

Tobacco price increases will force people to start growing their own tobacco rather than quit smoking, Manawatu smokers say.

On January 1 the third tobacco tax increase in three years hiked cigarette prices by 10 per cent, pushing the average price of a cigarette pack up to about $20.

The Government announced in 2012 that increases would take place each year for four years, with one more set to come next year, as part of the Smokefree 2025 goal.

While many had committed to quitting already this year, some Manawatu smokers said the price hike would not affect their habit.

"We'll just be paying more for our smokes," Kay Schulze, of Foxton, said.

"It won't make any difference. It hasn't yet and they've been doing it for years."

Schulze, who said she had been smoking "for years", had no plans to quit because she grew her own tobacco.

"[The price increase has] never affected us, it goes up every year. Those that want to carry on smoking will just find the money to pay for it or grow their own tobacco."

She said she bought almost 2000 tobacco seeds online from the United States for $5 and grew the plant in her own garden.

While it is illegal to sell or give away homegrown tobacco in New Zealand, it is legal to grow the plant and smoke it yourself.

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"They're huge plants, they grow massively tall, then it takes a couple of months to dry it and it just keeps replenishing," Schulze said.

Cheryl Carr, of Foxton, said she wouldn't give up smoking out of concern for her "mental state".

"I'll just keep paying higher prices as they keep going up," Carr said.

"It's just control, they'll just keep going up, then they'll start on alcohol, they already do vehicles, they'll just do everything.

"I grow my own, so they'll probably try and stop that too."

Karen Hutton, of Waitarere Beach, said the price increase wouldn't push her to give up because it was too hard.

Quitline spokeswoman Sarah Woods said the service had a busy day on the first day of the new year, with 165 people signing up to quit smoking with Quitline support.

"Usually the first day isn't quite that busy but as people realise how much tobacco has gone up, the week gets really busy," Woods said.

"The people we were talking to yesterday were talking about the tax increase and New Year's resolutions as reasons to quit this January."

Last year 5 per cent of all Quitline registrations, or 2144 people, came from the MidCentral region.

MidCentral Health health promotion adviser Julie Beckett said the benefits of quitting smoking were already clear, but this price rise would just add another incentive.

"The health benefits of not smoking are obvious. Whether it's the damage to your lungs or the increased risk of stroke, there is no doubt that you are best to give them the boot," she said.

"In the end, it's the health of our communities that we are concerned about, and anything that can help improve this health is welcome."

Quitline chief executive Paula Snowden said the Government needed to do more to support people to quit.

"We know that tax increases work to prompt quitting and we need to keep introducing them in a way that hits the tobacco industry in their back pocket," she said.

"Plain packaging has proven to work in Australia and we should introduce that in New Zealand, sooner rather than later. Finally, we need to hold the industry accountable and implement measures to control supply such as a register for tobacco retailers."

Last month health advocates celebrated 10 years since smoking in bars and restaurants was made illegal.

In the MidCentral District Health Board catchment, the number of pack-a-day adult smokers has dropped by 24 per cent since the 2006 census, according to figures from the Heart Foundation.

Call Quitline on 0800 778 778.

 - Manawatu Standard

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