Smoking to be banned in cars with children in them

The Government has announced that they will introduce legislation that will ban smoking in cars that have children under 18 in them.

NZ Herald:  Smoking to be banned in cars when children under 18 are present, Govt announces

Smoking will be banned in cars when children under 18 are present minister, Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa has announced.

Vaping will also be included in the prohibition and it will apply to all vehicles both parked and on the move.

“Public education and social marketing campaigns over many years have had some impact, but the rate of reduction in children exposed to smoking in vehicles is slowing. It is now time to do more by legislating,” Salesa said.

She expected the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 to be changed by the end of this year.

Once changed, police will be able to require people to stop smoking in their cars if children (under 18) are present.

They will also be able to use their discretion to give warnings, refer people to stop-smoking support services, or issue an infringement fee of $50.

It’s sad that a law for this is seen as necessary.

Will it be an effective deterrent? It’s still common to see people using cellphones while driving since that was made illegal.

Tobacco tax to rise again

Is rising tobacco tax fair?

Helping to quit is not the only cost of tobacco use though – health costs are high, as are related issues of poverty.

The details from Stuff:

From January 1, 2018 the tobacco tax is 83 cents per cigarette, with GST levied on top of that. A smoker who smokes 20 cigarettes per day is paying $133 in tobacco tax each week, including GST.

How much tax is being collected?

The Government collects $1.7b per year in tobacco tax itself, and $1.9b when the GST on the tobacco tax is included. According to Treasury, this amount is forecast to grow to $2.2b by 2021.

Only $62m, or 3 per cent of this money, is spent encouraging or actively helping smokers to quit.

But increasing tax has encouraged many people to quit.

Tobacco tax has played a part in reducing the proportion of adults (aged 15+) who smoke from 20.1 per cent to 15.7 per cent over the last 10 years.

However 600,000 people still smoke.

A pack a day smoker earning $45,000 a year would pay 15 per cent of their income, or close to $7000 per year in income tax and a further 15 per cent (nearly $7000) of their income in tobacco tax each year.

Given that poor people are more likely to smoke that must have a huge impact on their quality of life – and the quality of life of their families.

The tax is being paid by those for whom the policy is failing. Māori, Pasifika and those on low incomes are over-represented in this group.

Of course reducing smoking is a very important health goal, but addicted smokers are surviving on significantly less money per week after paying the tobacco tax. A pack-a-day smoker has $133 per week less to spend on heating, good food and clothes for children.

There are other adverse effects of rising tobacco prices – dairy robberies are increasing and often involve violence. Other crime to finance tobacco purchases is another.

The author of the Stuff opinion piece is Kathy Spencer, a (non-smoking) former Deputy Director-General in the Ministry of Health (responsible for Sector Policy) and a former Manager of Personal and Indirect Tax in the Treasury. She suggests:

Smokers need more active help to quit and there are now many ways to do this: more active support from health professionals, programmes like Quitline, nicotine replacement, e-cigarettes and so on.

The new government has the opportunity to introduce a fairer approach:

  • Double the amount spent on actively supporting smokers to quit, especially Māori, Pasifika and low-income groups.
  • Freeze the excise rate at the current level.

Success will mean that the Government will lose the $2b in revenue that it has been getting from addicted smokers.

It’s time to start thinking about collecting this revenue in other ways, from people who are in a better position to contribute.

I don’t think that increasing taxes of non-smokers to finance attempts to get smokers to quit would be very popular.

Time to rethink the tobacco problem?

Violent robberies of dairies and service stations have increased, with tobacco products often being the target. Is it time taxes on tobacco were reassessed?

I received this by email:

I find the zealotry of Turia on tobacco incredibly naive.

NZ has a huge problem with P and cannabis, not to mention black market tobacco, precisely because the taxes of tobacco have been increased so sharply. It was silly to think you could tax it out of existence, people can and will use substitutes. Entirely foreseeable side effects and banning dairies from selling tobacco will only run owners out of business and shift robberies to petrol stations and supermarkets.

I can understand the zealotry of Tiriana Turia to an extent, as Maori have been affected disproportionately by adverse effects of smoking. She drove the substantial increase in tobacco tax, and this has been effective in lowering rates of smoking.

Smokefree NZ: What are our smoking rates and how are they changing?

Smoking rates in New Zealand Aotearoa continue to reduce, with 17% of adults currently smoking, of which 15% smoke daily (this has dropped from 25% in 1996/97).

Although 605,000 New Zealand adults still smoke, over 700,000 have given up smoking and more than 1.9 million New Zealanders have never smoked regularly.

That means over 2 million people, over half the population, must have smoked regularly at some time in their lives.

Smoking has changed in the last half century from a socially acceptable (by those who smoked) widespread practice to a fringe activity.

Social pressure against smoking and rising prices are having an effect overall.

  • Youth aged 15–17 6% (down from 16% in 2006/07)
  • Young adults 18-24 24% (down from 28% in 2006/07; however this age range now has the highest smoking rates of any age group)

Younger people are smoking much less, perhaps due to price pressure as much as peer pressure, but rates jump when they have more money available.

However Turia’s concerns are obvious when you see this demographic:

  • Māori adults 38% (40% in 2007)

That’s over twice the overall rate, and it has hardly come down. So price pressure can’t be working effectively.

  • Pacific adults 24% (26% in 2007)

That hasn’t moved much either.

Is it time for a rethink on how to address this? Maori and Pacific people may need different incentives to quit smoking (or better, to not start smoking). Rising prices just seems to give some an incentive to steal.

Maori and Pacific Island people also figure disproportionately in unemployment and low incomes. The price of tobacco puts even more financial pressure on them.

Logically one might think that $20 a packet of cigarettes – that used to be a common daily consumption level – would be a huge deterrent, but for some demographics it obviously isn’t working much.

Why do young people start smoking in the first place? Not getting addicted is an obvious aim, but prevention is proving difficult amongst Maori in particular.

Further increases in prices are likely to increase related crime, increase deprivation and push some to other drugs – cannabis must be getting price competitive, and smokers must be more easily tempted harder drugs as well.

It looks obvious that a rethink and a different approach is needed.

It’s easy to see what is not working, but it’s a lot more difficult to come up with effective solutions.

Smoking makes you thin and pretty

A poster on the wall in my high school in Brazil – “smoking makes you thin and pretty”

Embedded image permalink

My father ended up just about that thin before his lungs gave up.

Huff post on Spock and Gore

Huff Post has a blog post by on What Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and Lesley Gore (‘It’s My Party’) Have in Common.

Leonard Nimoy, best known for his recurring role as Spock in Star Trek, recently passed away. His cause of death was emphysema, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or end-stage respiratory failure. But the real cause of his death was smoking. As he said in a tweet before his death, “Don’t smoke. I did. Wish I never had. LLAP.”

My father died of emphysema (stuffed lungs) in 2000. He was always a smoker since I knew him. I saw him try to give up through periods of poor health but he was addicted and always went crawling back. Except for his last few months when he could barely crawl as far as the toilet and had to have oxygen assistance. I saw a slow demise from close up – I was his primary caregiver – over several years.

And Lesley Gore, long known as the songwriter and singer of songs such as the iconic “It’s My Party,” also recently died. Her cause of death was lung cancer, as I recently discussed in a HuffPost blog on lung cancer in women. She also smoked, even teaching her friends how to smoke when she was young.

My mother was also a smoker since a young teen until her mid thirties, She gave up for a few years, and another few years on nicotine, then gave up for good.

She didn’t get lung cancer, but I saw close up the suffering she went through with oesophageal cancer. I don’t know if smoking had anything to do with that.

Actually the Huff Post post is wrong, Gore didn’t write ‘It’s My Party’ (Walter Gold, John Gluck Jr., Herb Weiner, Seymour Gottlieb did).  And I don’t particularly like it.

But I do like her ‘ protofeminist million-selling You Don’t Own Me – my mother was a sort of a feminist in her day, very independent and strong willed and prepared to do what she wanted without caring about societal norms of the 50s and 60s. After she had been sucked in to sucking fags.

And while it’s hard to be certain why I never smoked (tobacco – experimenting with pine needles rolled up in paper doesn’t count) I can thank my mother for deterring me. She was also ahead of her time recognising the stupdity and unhealthiness of it repeatedly inhaling smoke and all the crap that goes with it.

As well as that I think I may have inherited a bit of her ‘do what you want and to hell with what is expected of you’ attitude.

She wasn’t owned by anyone. And I don’t feel owned either.

‘You Don’t Own Me’ performed by Lesley Gore, written by John Madara and Dave White, produced by Quincy Jones.

The cost of smoking, and excuses

The price of tobacco has gone up again sparking another round of discussions on the pros and cons of discouraging smoking.

I can’t speak from experience, I’ve never been addicted and have always despised smoking. My parents both smoked but discouraged it, in my case successfully. My father died from fag fucked lungs (emphysema), my mother died from complications from esophageal cancer (she had smiked heavily from young but had given up for several years, started up again for several years and then gave up again for her last few decades).

The cost of smoking can be very high.

An interesting comment, ‘just saying’ at The Standard:

When I was at the annual gathering of the whanau I was struck by the fact that the majority of us smoke. At one stage about twelve of us were sitting outside in the rain smoking (vaping in my case) and we were joking that given how many of us were on benefits a TV crew with the hapless Paddy Gower should be arriving at any moment.

It’s no coincidence either that all of us at that table were living the precariat dream – either not in paid work ( or not enough to make ends meet), or in imminent danger of becoming so. Three had lost their paid work in the last six months and were desperately seeking a job.

Everyone except me was talking about trying to quit because the price hikes had made lives a misery, but despite multiple attempts, cutting down etc. most are doing without other (often essential) things, borrowing money etc. Because being stressed and demoralised makes a smoker want a cigarette. Badly.

There seems to be a fair degree of excuse making here.

“I’m stressed so deserve a nicotine fix despite desperately needing money for other things and despite it stuffing my health” is an attitude that I just don’t understand.

Prime obligation for kids in poverty lies with parents

A very very good editorial from Dom Post on ‘poverty’ and who is responsible.

Poverty is harmful to children. No-one will dispute the central tenet of the child poverty report released this week by Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills.

Kids who go to school hungry struggle to learn. Kids who live in damp, cold, crowded homes get sick. Kids who grow up poor are more likely to struggle as adults.

Where readers may be inclined to part company with the commissioner’s expert advisory group is over how to tackle the problem.

However, when it comes to the pointy end of the exercise they have a lot to say to the Government and nothing to say to parents. The report contains 78 recommendations. Seventy-eight of those are directed at the Government; none are directed at parents.

The state can help, but definitely the  prime obligation lies with parents.

One of the prime obligations of our government should be to ensure parents understand and exercise their obligation to care for their children as best they can, and not to just rely on the Government.

What has become labeled ‘poverty’ is a very complex issue with no easy or quick solutions, even if they were affordable.

The ‘poverty’ label itself has negative conotations, it is yet another stigma to attach to the poor and the beneficiaries.

The state cannot be a surrogate parent. It cannot provide love, it cannot offer encouragement and  it cannot set boundaries.

What it does do is offer help in times of difficulty and provide free education,  subsidised healthcare and a range of other social services.

Whether that assistance is sufficient  is debatable. The expert group thinks not. It wants the Government to spend an extra $2 billion or so a year on benefits, rental accommodation, state housing and 24-hour-a-day free health care for children up to the age of 5.

However, its recommendations ignore the reality that it is parents who have the most impact on children’s lives. Money is important but it is not the most important thing.

Apart from better parenting there’s also factors like better housing, better healthcare, better education, but counter issues also need to be addressed too, like to much violence, too much alcohol and drugs and tobacco.

Taking smoking as an example, there was a post on Kiwiblog yesterday about the latest statistics.

  • 600,000 smokers
  • 5,000 (average) cigarettes per year
  • $3,000 cost per year each, at $15 per pack
  • $1.8 billion total approximately per year

I don’t know how many of the supposed 270,000 children in poverty have one or two smoking parents. If one smoking parent quit they would have an extra $60 per week to spend on providing for their kids (and they would all live in healthier homes). That’s about the same amount the Green party want to give to beneficiary families in an extension of ‘Working for Families’.

Many poor people don’t smoke or drink, but many do. For example…

Also ironically, those who can least afford to smoke, are more likely to smoke. Those in the bottom quintile for deprivation were 2.7 times more likely to smoke than the top quintile.

If you also factor in alcohol and cannabis there is a massive amount of poor people’s money being spent on products that have very negative imptacts on the health and wellbeing of both parents and children.

I doubt amongst the 78 recommendations there was none that suggested Government should ban alcohol, tobacco and recreational (wreckreational) drugs for anyone whose children aren’t sufficiently cared for.

Should we do more to reduce tobacco use?

Smoking kills. I’m fortunate that I’ve never been addicted to nicotine, I’ve never been a smoker. But I did grow up in a smoking household.

My father ended up dying of emphysema, that can be directly attributed to the addiction he often struggled to break but never succeeded until his lungs finally completely turned to mush and he slowly ran out of breath.

My mother smoked as a young teenager through to young adulthood. She gave up once for several years, then succumbed again to nicotine addiction until she finally quite for good when she was in her late forties. She eventually died of oesophageal cancer, difficult to know if that was related to tobacco damage or not.

So I’m a fan of seeing the end of tobacco use. I think smoking should be actively discouraged.

Should we do more?

There are already extensive measures in place to reduce tobacco use, including age restrictions, display restrictions, quit smoking assistance and increasing taxes. It won’t be long until it’s a dollar a fag.

Should we do more? There are proposals to legally insist on no branding of cigarettes, tooting at anyone smoking in a car (Tariana Turia’s suggestion, one that I strongly disagree with), even banning completely.

I think the current measures are probably close to or at the maximum required. It’s working – smoking numbers keep reducing.

We are limiting where people can smoke, substantially increasing the cost, and discouraging tobacco use extensively.

But people still have rights to do what they like, if the harm they do is only to themselves. That’s there choice.

And we can’t expect lifelong addictions to stop overnight.

As hard as it is to see someone die slowly due to tobacco, as I have, we can’t force too much on individuals.

I think we are probably doing enough now.