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A Week Of It: When Tax Is Good For You

Apart from the continuing controversy over Waitara this week the news to most affect this writer this week - personally - was the quick decision of the government to raise the price of cigarettes.

"Quick" being the operative word. One minute Parliament was gas- bagging in general business, the next it was under urgency and the hike, a decision to increase the excise duty, was passed into law early the next morning.

The speed of the move was hardly surprising. No one likes being hit in the pocket, and the government forced the changes through to avoid any unnecessary fall out from the addicted ones.

They need not have worried much. After forty years of black budgets smokers are used to seeing the price of tobacco rise. The reaction was predictable, a few complained, others said they would give up.

But the justification and reaction from both sides of the House was more interesting.

Health Minister Annette King's spin was that the move was GOOD for you - primarily about public health. Of course the hike would ensure more smokers ceased their dirty habits.

Then there was the matter of the extra money gathered. Without being specific King indicated the extra $300 million would be spent on health, general welfare and on initiatives for Maori. All the detail however would not be revealed till the upcoming budget.

It all sounded GOOD until National's Pacific Affairs spokesperson Arthur Anae, pointed out the poor would be disproportionately hit by the rise. No one denied the move was revenue gathering, but now it started to look like an indirect form of user pays. On the poor. Not GOOD for Labour.

Over to the Greens. Beneficiary advocate Sue Bradford got assurances from the Government that stop-smoking programmes would benefit from the extra money flowing into government coffers.

Suddenly the Bill was about stopping people smoking again. The Greens supported the Bill and it passed.

Now cigarettes are $1 more expensive and this writer is currently about to enjoy a 45 cent cancer stick.

When he was young cigarettes used to be $2 a packet. He is still smoking - content - the money will go to a good cause. He is also waiting for the cost of nicorette to go down.


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