Taxpayers’ Union tobacco tax campaign

The Taxpayers’ Union has been strongly criticising the increase in tobacco excise tax that came into effect today.

It looks a little odd to me. Why are they campaigning on an excise tax scheduled in 2012?

Why haven’t they filed a Financial Statement in since 2014?


Over the last 12 months we’ve had a number of members who smoke ask us to examine the issue of tobacco taxes.  So to coincide with today’s 10% hike in tobacco excise we’ve released a report examining the issue.

Smokers have become the political punching bag over the decade with the current Government hiking excise taxes nearly every year under the guise of health concerns and to pressure low income New Zealanders to give up the habit.

Our members who smoke often feel as though they are treated as cash cows.

“Our members who smoke often feel as though they are treated as cash cows” is a curious statement.

Our research shows that their concerns are justified, with government tobacco excise income around three times the estimated cost of smoking to our health system.

The report details the effect of tobacco excise increases, the failure of the Government to legalise the sale of healthier alternatives which would minimise harm, and the misuse of taxpayers’ money given to not-for-profits which lobby the government.

The timing of this is also curious. These increases have been set in place for some time – this is the last of four annual increases. From May 2012:

Tobacco excise rise part of wider programme

Tobacco excise taxes will increase by 10 per cent a year on 1 January in each of the next four years as part of a wider government programme to prevent young people from taking up smoking and encourage existing smokers to quit, Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia says.

This will be in addition to the annual inflation-indexed increases in tobacco excise, and follows a 40 per cent increase in excise since April 2010.

Budget 2012 also provides $20 million over the next four years for a new innovation fund, Pathway to Smoke-Free 2025, for programmes to discourage smoking uptake and help more New Zealanders give up.

The excise increases will increase the price of an average pack of 20 cigarettes to more than $20 by 2016.

The Taxpayers’ Union:

Politicians claim higher tobacco taxes are necessary to promote better health, but the Government has prevented the sale of new generation smoking alternatives such as e-cigarettes which are 95% less harmful and are the most popular smoking cessation tool used in England.

Rather than anti-tax this campaign seems more pro products.

While politicians cry crocodile tears about the harms of smoking, they are refusing to allow the sale of healthier alternatives. It appears the only reason is to protect the revenue stream from the taxes on traditional cigarettes.

That’s a very odd claim, based on nothing of substance that I can see. In fact statistics that the ‘revenue stream’ isn’t protected, the smoking rate is decreasing:

  • The current smoking rate (adults who smoke at least monthly) has fallen from 20% in 2006/07 to 17% in 2014/15.
  • The most substantial reduction in current smoking rates is for youth (those aged 15–17 years), for whom the rate has more than halved from 16% in 2006/07 to 6% in 2014/15.

Less younger people smoking means less people becoming addicted. And less people dying of smoking related illnesses.

There was an odd exchange on Twitter two days ago.

‘Stock up on cigarettes before New Year’ – only a waste of space organisation would put out a PR with such a bloody ridiculous statement.

Are you seriously suggesting that we shouldn’t remind smokers that taxes are going up on new year’s day?

No, I’m seriously suggesting you shouldn’t encourage people to stock up on cigarettes. Think about it.

The poor are the least likely to respond to tax hikes. ie. families, go without.

Fine, you could have said all of that and not bothered with the stock up comments – that was unnecessary nonsense.

Might as well just say ‘hey taxpayers, go kill yourselves’.

I can’t find the original that initiated this.

Is there really a strong enough call from smokers who are members of the Taxpayers’ Union to justify doing a report on excise taxes that were scheduled in 2012?

Who are the members of the Taxpayers’ Union?

The Executive Director and PR pusher is Jordan Williams – I wonder if he is a smoker. They also list a Campaigns Coordinator (Ben Craven) and a Research Fellow (Jim Rose).

I presume it costs a significant amount to run.

We are New Zealanders who have formed a union to stand up for hardworking New Zealand taxpayers. We represent the common interests of all taxpayers. We want to become New Zealand’s largest union.

No, they don’t represent the common interests of all taxpayers. I can’t see any claim about how many members they have, nor how many smoking members who feel like cash cows.

We are not a political party, and we don’t represent big business or special interests. When we launched all of our donations were from individuals. Joining the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union only takes a few minutes and costs $5.

“When we launched all of our donations were from individuals” is meaningless. When they launched (after they launched) they sought members and donations.

But they also say in their Q & A:


The Taxpayers’ Union is independent and funded by individual members and supporters who are New Zealand taxpayers.  The vast majority of funding has been from private individuals.

We are of course happy to accept donations from businesses, organisations and members of the public who support our objectives and activities.

Forgive me for being a bit suspicious of what appears to look a lot like a lobbying campaign for tobacco related products.

As an incorporated society, the Taxpayers’ Union must file annual accounts with the Registrar of Incorporated Societies. 

That means we will be more transparent about our income and spending than most political parties.

They have filed annual accounts once, in September 2014.


This shows that as at 31 December 2013 they had received ‘Donations and annual subscriptions’ of $66,329.095 (the Financial Statement shows the amount exactly like that). They also show the median donation as $25 and an average donation of $520.

Their income transparency seems to be lagging. I’ve checked a number of other registered associations and unions and they have filed annual accounts this year.

The Taxpayers’ Union tobacco campaign looks quite odd to me. I think there should be more transparency, more specifics and less general waffle that sounds like product lobbying.

UPDATE: As kiwidave pointed out the safety of e-cigarettes has been questioned.

Taxpayers Union: “the Government has prevented the sale of new generation smoking alternatives such as e-cigarettes which are 95% less harmful”:

NZ Herald today: E-cigarettes safety questioned

Using e-cigarettes is no safer than smoking tobacco with nicotine, scientists warned after finding the vapour damages DNA and could cause cancer.

Researchers at the University of California created an extract from the “smoke” of e-cigarettes and used it to treat human cells in a laboratory.

The exposed cells developed DNA damage and died far sooner than untreated ones.

Nicotine-free e-cigarettes caused 50 per cent more DNA strand breaks; for those with nicotine, the damage rose three-fold in eight weeks.

Dr Jessica Wang-Rodriguez, professor of pathology at the university in San Diego, said: “Our study strongly suggests that electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing makes them appear. E-cigarettes on the whole have something to do with increased cell death. Based on the evidence to date I believe they are no better than smoking.”



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  1. kiwi guy

     /  1st January 2016

    Its a front for right wing weasels.

  2. kiwi dave

     /  1st January 2016

    Apparently, the Taxpayers union are completely unaware of recent reports that ecigarettes are just as harmful as real cigs. (the chemicals in them are causing similar cancers)

  3. -D

     /  1st January 2016

    I’m surprised you aren’t familiar with the Taxpayer’s Union. They’ve been agitating about misuse of public money for awhile now.

    I give them the money I “save” by having been priced out of the occasional cigar market. You can’t even bring more than a couple smokes with you when you travel. (Don’t ask me what smoking tourists must think.)

    The TU have a tip line for dobbing in examples of public waste:

    The Taxpayer’s Union, in my book, is O.K.

    • I am familiar with the Taxpayers’ Union. Some of what they do is laudable, some of it is questionable.

      I have particular concerns about what can be perceived as product lobbying, and also about their failure to file a financial statement last year.

      Jordan Williams should do all he can to make the Taxpayers’ Union look squeaky clean, especially given his known past associations with mercenary blogger Cameron Slater.

      • kittycatkin

         /  1st January 2016

        The people squawking about the rise might have a point if it was an essential item, but nobody needs to buy cigarettes. Poor people going without, my eye. If they’re that poor, how can they afford to smoke ? If you can’t afford to do it-don’t do it.

        I don’t know how much of the revenue raised covers the cost to the country of smokers. It probably hasn’t changed much that keeping someone in a hospital bed for a day cost about the same as an average week’s income. That means that keeping a smoker in hospital for their final weeks would cost about $50,000 if they’re there for a month. That’s an awful lot of tax money. Of course, smokers save the country by dying before they’ve used much, if any, superannuation money.

        • @ kck – Happy New Year to you, but don’t you rile me up now, ya hear?

          1) If you’re that poor, how can you afford rates and insurance?

          2) Since when was our capitalist marketplace about “essential items”?

          3) People get ill, occupy hospital beds and die as a result of partaking of a number of substances, notably food and alcoholic beverages.

          “Director of Alcohol Healthwatch Rebecca Williams said if the findings did not “shake New Zealand to its core then I don’t know what else we need to find out about this drug”?

          • kittycatkin

             /  1st January 2016

            Well, that’s true about the other substances-but that doesn’t make smoking less harmful.

            People who say that ‘in their day’ people didn’t know about the harmful effects of smoking have forgotten that cigarettes have been called coffin nails for ? years-certainly since the 19th century. There’s a casual reference in The Darling Buds of May to someone not smoking because he didn’t want to get lung cancer-the book was written in 1951.

        • Robbers Dog

           /  1st January 2016

          The same could be said for alcohol which causes more harm than tobacco across a number of measures. Doesn’t seem to be any appetite for bumping up the duty on that though does there?

          I’m not a smoker but this holier than thou crusade against what is people’s right to chose what to do to their bodies is a bit rich.

          • Yes, alcohol is the elephant in the country. It’s integrated extensively with social life and business, often without any problems or harm, but there’s also huge amounts of harm caused by alcohol.

            Banning it isn’t a practical option. A change in public attitude to alcohol abuse could be driven by the public so politicians don’t need to meddle.

          • @ RD – “a bit rich”? How very polite of you. What a well trained Robbers Dog you are. I too am not a smoker. 4.5 years off it.

            “The holier than thou crusade” is a f*ing goddamn bitchin’ moral travesty!

            I’ll stop saying things like that when the same provisos cover alcohol and numerous proven harmful foodstuffs.

            Problem is, by that time I’ll be holier than almost any other thou.
            Damn those two edged swords!

            We could always do a U-turn I suppose and head in the direction of “peoples right to choose”?

            • kittycatkin

               /  1st January 2016

              Most drinkers aren’t doing it all day, and if someone else has a drink, it won’t make the person next to them drunk. I see bus drivers having a smoke in the few minutes between trips-I don’t see them drinking. I see the smokers at the local supermarket outside smoking, they’re not drinking.

              People may have the right to choose, but their choice is costing everyone else a huge amount.

      • -D

         /  1st January 2016

        I don’t know about Whale Oil associations but I think the Taxpayer Union is more associated with David Farrar.

      • Timoti

         /  1st January 2016

        What’s wrong with product lobbying for the working poor, or just plain poor? One of their few perks apart from slapping, is fagging and boozing. It keeps these indentured slaves to the system and their passions, happy.

        The government needs caution here. As I understand it, an individual may grow 15kgs of tobacco for personal use. That may change with people growing tobacco commercially to supply demand. Tobacco may come to rival marijuana on the black market.

        And that would be excellent payback for our government trampling on individual rights of drinking establishments to allow smoking on their premises.

        • @ Timoti – no doubt your first paragraph is pure derision? The working poor or plain poor are worthy of nothing better, right?

          To my surprise I agree with the rest of what you say.

          But what of the individual rights of the smokers themselves? Not much point “our government” allowing this ‘right’ to drinking establishments if no-one can afford to smoke there?

      • There is something odd about feeling the Taxpayers’ Union needs to look “squeaky clean” or that it’s boss should consciously be doing all he can to give that impression. The mere notions suggest manipulation rather than a purity of intent and method. A purity of intent and method no doubt claimed by its members.
        I accept the comment, “Some of what they do is laudable,” but suggest an addition to accompany it, with a slight spelling change – “Some of what they do is laughable.”

  4. Excess of tobacco excise tax subsidizes the liquor industry’s insufficient contribution towards the unbelievably massive harm alcohol causes our society.

    And it probably pays something towards maintaining the unjust laws governing other recreational drugs, notably cannibus.

  5. kiwi guy

     /  1st January 2016

    Nicotine is toxic. Just ban it as not fit for human consumption and stop all this mucking around.

    • @ KG – So is alcohol toxic and so are (arguably) all other recreational drugs.
      It’s the “toxic” effect of them we experience as being “out of it”, disinhibited, chilled out
      (Oh God, I want some!!!)

      We have comprehensive prior experience of what happens when you “prohibit” the most popular of these drugs, alcohol.

      I know people who are already growing their own tobacco, and will no doubt supply friends and family. Who wouldn’t? Put all the regulations we like on it, it’s always a free market (my New Year’s revelation), legal or illegal, unless you apply your own ethics to it.

      I don’t do alcohol, tobacco or marijuana any more, but if I wanted to do any of them I would just go ahead and do it, because no matter what the legal distinctions, there is ethically no difference between them.

  6. IN contrast to our appalling and draconian cannabis laws, it is quite legal for smokers of tobacco to grow their own. Given both the very high price of cigarettes, and the fact that they are chock full of scary chemical additives, I am astonished that smokers do not just grow, cure and smoke their own home grown organic tobacco.

    • The same predominant tobacco user demographic could also grow a lot more of their own fruit and vegetables, but they don’t.

      • jamie

         /  1st January 2016

        Yes the skillset, and perhaps more importantly the simple awareness that growing food is a normal part of everyday life, has been increasingly absent in at least a couple of generations right across society as far as I can tell.

        It used to be something almost everybody did.

        Whole generations have failed to replace the fruit trees that their grandparents planted.

        I put this down to three main factors.

        1. People don’t stay in one place as long as they used to, so fewer people have bothered to plant trees that can take several years to bear fruit.

        2. Many of the big sections in our cities where previous generations planted fruit trees have been subdivided, cross-leased and filled with townhouses.

        3. We have, as a society and as individuals, been strongly encouraged for several decades to primarily see ourselves as consumers rather than providers. Lemons are something you get at the supermarket.

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  1st January 2016

    “Based on the evidence to date I believe they are no better than smoking.”

    I can’t reconcile that statement with the research results. As reported they show nicotine caused a 300% increase in DNA damage compared with a 50% increase for e-cigarettes. In addition I presume use of e-cigarettes is a temporary phase to break nicotine addiction rather than permanent.

    This leads me to suspect some unscientific ulterior agenda is operating here.

    • kittycatkin

       /  1st January 2016

      I find it hard to believe that they do as much harm as smoking-unless, possibly, someone was smoking 20 or more a day. Which is unlikely.

  8. Patzcuaro

     /  1st January 2016

    Great news that youth smoking has decreased by so much.

  9. Mike C

     /  1st January 2016

    I’ve been thinking for several months now … that there is something hinky about how the “Tax Payers Union” operates.

    Perhaps all the Tax Payers Union Directors have decided to take a leaf out right out of Slater&Co’s book … to raise money to pay their last years tax bill … by taking money from a Tobacco Company in exchange for “hit pieces” against the Government 🙂

  10. Farmerpete

     /  2nd January 2016

    Well, there goes the integrity of the taxpayers Union. I won’t be paying any attention to their PR releases form here on.

  11. Pissedoff

     /  5th January 2016

    Can’t the tobacco union start a petition requesting that alcohol is taxed as high as tobacco. Alcohol related deaths far exceed smoke related deaths and I’m sick of the Government “milking” smokers. What happened to freedom of choice, that is being taken away from us yet alcohol is still advertised freely on TV!!! I;m totally pissed off as I’m a considerate smoker, which is more than what can be said of drunk drivers who kill innocent people every year!!!!

    • @ Marcia & Pissedoff – striking similarities between your comments. Are you a lobby group?

      There was a chap named Zedd used to post on here. A man after my own heart mostly. I enjoyed his comments. I sure hope he’s just having a holiday. The ghastly alternative is “they” have driven him away. I hope not.

      Anyhow, I’m pretty sure Zedd posted a graph on here of the relative dangers of various “recreational substances”. The notable thing about alcohol was it was streaks ahead of its nearest rival, way in front, far-and-away the most dangerous by a country mile.

      From memory it was 73% dangerous!

      So, far from being taxed as high as tobacco, it should be taxed a sh*tload more!


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