Govt mulls tough steps to stub out smoking

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 18/10/2012
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The battle over smoking is firing up, with new restrictions being considered on top of steep tax rises.

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said yesterday the Government was considering fines for smoking with children in a vehicle, banning smoking in parks and clamping down on duty-free tobacco limits.

"We are looking at every option we can to stop people killing themselves," she said.

The proposed restrictions would be similar to those already in place in Queensland, where smoking in a car with a child incurs a $400 fine.

Ms Turia's comments follow the passage of legislation on Tuesday night that will use taxes to push the price for a pack of 20 cigarettes to $20 by 2016.

In July, the Government also banned tobacco displays and a proposal to enforce plain packaging is still being considered by the Health Ministry.

The restrictions are part of the push to make New Zealand smokefree by 2025 but have sparked a strong lobbying campaign from the tobacco industry.

British American Tobacco has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a campaign opposing plain packaging.

Corporate and regulatory affairs head Susan Jones said she was not opposed to tobacco tax increases but warned that "excessive" jumps could create a black market.

The plain packaging should be delayed until the effect of the tax hikes had been assessed, she said.

British American Tobacco would not oppose moves to ban smoking in cars with children.

The Grocery Retailers' Association, which counts the tobacco company among its members, also opposes many tobacco restrictions. Association executive director Trina Snow said increased taxes reduced cigarette sales but could also lead to more crime.

"You get some desperate people wanting a cigarette.

"You could have more store robberies," she said.

High prices and plain packaging would also push tobacco underground, creating a black market.

But Mrs Turia said the priority was saving lives, not money. "It is a choice thing. Clearly people on lower income need to think carefully about exactly what they spend their money on."

Quitline chief executive Paula Snowden said tobacco tax rises in 2010 had led to a big boost in the number of calls it received.

"A tax is a clear trigger that works to make people quit."

Other measures, such as banning displays, would cut the number of new smokers and prevent relapses, she said.

Since 1981, the rate of adults smoking has dropped from 32 per cent to less than 22 per cent.

* This story has been corrected. It initially said British American Tobacco would also oppose moves to ban smoking in cars with children.

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- The Dominion Post

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