Herald editorial spot on with tobacco taxes and robberies

The NZ Herald editorial is spot on with regards to tobacco taxes:

It is not often crime can be truly said to be of the Government’s own making, but that can be said of robberies of shops stocking cigarettes.

Rising tax on tobacco to discourage smoking has reached a level at which cigarettes have become, according to the Association of Convenience Stores, “like stocking gold”.

Hardly a week passes in which a dairy is not attacked for little more than cash and cigarettes.

The heists are happening in daylight and frequently shop owners are being battered in the attempt to save their stock. Its wholesale cost is high with the excise included and the retail margin is low.

The robberies are suspected to be feeding a black market that is on-selling the cigarettes to less scrupulous shop owners at less than the wholesale, tax-inclusive price.

This is what is liable to happen when markets are seriously distorted no matter how worthy the purpose of the regulation or taxation.

The truly stupid thing is that this was easily predictable. In Bhutan tobacco taxes went so high it made the risks of robbery worth it to establish a crime empire and illicit tobacco flooded in the country.

There are many other examples, and the government just blindly went ahead as a sop to the Maori party.

To say so is not to condone the criminal response but those who promote regulations and taxation as solutions to a social problem should always keep in mind the risk that they could create new problems, possibly worse than the problem they are trying to cure.

Smoking is a danger to health but so is armed robbery.

After a spate of attacks that put shop owners in hospital, cigarette retailers have appealed for help, holding public meetings, a protest march and bringing a petition to Parliament.

The people responsible for creating an environment for crime to flourish and be worthwhile are the anti-tobacco lobbyists and the Maori party. These injuries and crimes are on their heads.

Yesterday the Government responded with a $1.5 million fund to provide their shops with more security devices.

Window locks, door bolts and better lighting might help, though only when the shops are closed. Armed hold-ups during trading hours will have to be met with more subtle measures.

Cigarette cabinets may need to be more secure and have delayed opening devices, which could also require some means of identifying the “customer” before they can be opened. Or the delaying device could also trigger an alarm of some sort.

These would seem excessive precautions if cigarettes were just another consumer item, but as the Association of Convenience Stores’ chief executive, Dave Hooker, has said, stocking cigarettes is “like stocking gold”.

A shotgun would be more effective, with the added benefit of reducing the criminal gene pool.

He also said, “As the excise on tobacco goes up every year, there is a point when you say, ‘When is enough, enough?'” It is a question the Government should be asking.

No doubt annual tax increases have played a part in reducing the number of smokers though the habit remains rife in Maori and Pacific communities.

The Maori Party has pressed hardest for the tax hikes by the present Government and it is unlikely to let up.

That is because they are stupid. Tobacco taxes actually hurt their support base more than any other party.

The tax is set to rise by 10 per cent a year for next three years, bringing the price of a pack to $30 by 2020.

Tinnies are cheaper.

It is time to ask whether this is really wise? If smoking has declined to the point that a hard core of smokers has continued despite the rising price, what reason is there to suppose further rises will deter them.

Each increase might merely divert more of their limited income from their family’s needs. We may have reached the point at which taxation is doing more harm than good.

Smokers are smokers through choice now. Only the truly stupid would start smoking and so any disease they get as a result and any taxes they pay on top are actually a tax on stupidity.

 – NZ Herald

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.