By Peter Wilson of NZPA
Wellington, April 29 NZPA - A packet of 20 cigarettes is going to cost about $11 after overwhelming support in Parliament for a stiff tobacco tax increase which is being greeted with a chorus of praise from anti-smoking lobby groups.
A bill enacted under urgency on a vote of 118-4 has put in place a 10 percent increase in tobacco excise duty, which was effective at midnight. Two more 10 percent rises will follow in January and at the beginning of 2012.
When the two-year price hike cycle is complete, a packet of 20 cigarettes will cost about $14 and a 30 gram pouch of loose tobacco about $30.
Loose tobacco has been hit with a double whammy, an immediate increase of 14 percent to bring it into line with cigarettes as well as the 10 percent increases.
The Government, which reaps about $1 billion a year from tobacco excise, can expect an estimated revenue increase of about $200 million.
Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia, a strong anti-smoking campaigner, brought the bill to Parliament and told MPs the debate was going to be about life and death.
"The ghastly reality is that cigarettes kill one in every two long-term smokers," she said.
"In basic terms one in five New Zealanders are regular smokers -- exposure to smoking in the home and tobacco use itself results in a staggering figure of around 5000 deaths a year."
Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party, the Progressive Party and United Future backed the bill while ACT splits its vote. One of ACT's MPs, John Boscawen, supported it and the other four opposed it.
One was Sir Roger Douglas, who said any benefits had to be weighed up against individual responsibility.
"The 'I know what's best for you' mentality is getting out of hand...our flight from individual responsibility never ends," he said.
And he challenged the Government, if it believed a price increase was going to curb smoking, to do the job properly.
"Why not put it up by 600 percent -- that would fix it."
National's Tau Henare, who identified himself as "Parliament's only real smoker" supported the bill but said poor people were going to be hardest hit.
"If a packet of cigarettes goes up to $20 they're still going to buy them," he said.
"Most cessation programmes don't work."
Progressive Party leader Jim Anderton also backed the bill but accused the Government of hypocrisy because it had rejected a Law Commission recommendation to increase the excise on alcohol.
"And 24 hours later it's agreed to keep the Maori Party happy and rush a bill through Parliament to increase the price of tobacco," he said.
"Well guess what? Increasing the price of alcohol would reduce the number of teenagers buying cheap alco-pops at the dairy too."
Quitline, which helps people who want to give up smoking, said it was anticipating many more calls and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said it expected more people to kick the habit.
The Salvation Army applauded the move but, like Mr Anderton, said it wished the Government had the courage to act as harshly against alcohol.
The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners welcomed the price hike and said it would improve the health of many people.