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Harm Caused By Excessive Tobacco Tax Mounting

Tobacco excise tax hikes can motivate people to quit smoking, but new research shows the unintended negative effects are increasing and more than just smokers are being hurt.

The study, being presented at the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco conference in New Orleans this week, analysed 10 years of news stories about cigarette robberies of convenience stores across New Zealand.

“A staggering 575 robberies of convenience stores, dairies and petrol stations where tobacco was targeted were reported on over the past decade,” said Marewa Glover, one of the authors of the study, and Director of the New Zealand based Centre of Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty and Smoking.

“Dairies were the target in 58% of the robberies reported on, followed by petrol stations (22 per cent) and liquor stores (9 per cent). There was a slow rise in the number of robberies between 2009 to 2015, but after that the number of reports rocketed. It became like the Wild Wild West with cars being stolen and driven into shop fronts. Shop staff were beaten with bats, cut with machetes, threatened with guns. Over 100 incidences of physical injury to shop staff were reported” said Dr Glover.

The researchers believe that the escalation in robberies can be sheeted home to increases in tobacco excise as a sharp increase in robberies occurred after the 1 January 2016 excise increase which saw excise duty reach almost .67 cents per cigarette, and a year later, it jumped to almost .74 cents per cigarette – now the highest priced relative to income globally,” said Dr Glover.

“One result supports claims that the robbery phenomenon has been caused by the excessive tax increases on tobacco. We found that robberies were more likely to occur in colder vs warmer months. August in the deep of winter had the highest rate of robberies. This coincides with a time of extra costs for power and food. It is a time when legal sources of cigarettes become unaffordable and people who can’t quit have to go to the black market.” She said.

The research also showed that robberies were more likely to occur on Saturday, Sunday and into Monday, compared to Tuesday to Friday. Twenty per cent of robberies reportedly occurred on Mondays which could have included robberies committed after midnight Sunday.

Robberies appeared to drop off in 2018. The researchers suggest this is likely due to the Government promise of increased policing, the subsidization of increased security measures for retailers of tobacco products, such as ‘fog-cannons’, and the imprisonment of many offenders. But also, they said media may have stopped reporting robberies as they were no longer newsworthy unless someone got hurt.

“The aggravated robberies, especially against our iconic dairies, marks a significant change in the culture of New Zealand. Dairies play a pivotal role in communities and now the staff live in fear of the next attack, local residents’ feel less safe also. The harms to the broader community need to be considered when weighing up the costs versus benefits of ever-increasing the tax on tobacco,” Dr Glover said.

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