The number of smokers in Australia has increased for the first time since anti-smoking campaigns were ramped up a generation ago, casting doubt on the effectiveness of cigarette tax increases, according to a story by Adam Creighton for The Australian.
Creighton quoted Dr. Colin Mendelsohn, an expert in public health at the University of New South Wales, as saying that an unexpected standstill in the national smoking rate since 2013 combined with a rapid population growth had pushed up the number of regular smokers by more than 21,000 to 2.4 million.
Mendelsohn said Australia’s “punitive and coercive” policies to curb smoking had “run out of steam”.
“For the first time ever, there has been no statistically significant reduction in the smoking rate, and an increase in the number of smokers in Australia,” he reportedly told The Australian, noting the nation’s smoking rate was now higher than the US’ smoking rate for the first time in a decade. “This is despite plain packaging and the most expensive cigarette prices in the world.”
Mendelsohn said plain packaging and tax increases had worked better for younger smokers than for older smokers, noting regular smoking rates for 12-to-17-year-olds had halved to 1.5 percent during the past three years. “But we’re left with established, older smokers who can’t or won’t quit. The strategy of higher prices isn’t working for them,” he said.
A standard pack of Marlboro cigarettes averages $25.10 in Australia according to price comparison website Numbeo, compared with $14.80 in Britain, $8.50 in the US and $1.90 in Indonesia.
There was a law of diminishing returns associated with price increases, said Mendelsohn, and a lot of smokers were digging their heels in. High prices were fuelling a black market.
Meanwhile, Dr. Alex Wodak, director of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, endorsed Mendelsohn’s analysis and concerns. “Australia is doing everything right in terms of tobacco control, but one key difference with the UK and USA, where smoking rates have dropped, is our hostility to e-cigarettes,” he said.