Thursday, April 29, 2010

WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T SMOKE - Thursday 29th April 2010

The Government came out today with some very courageous news.

Packets of cigarettes will have to be in plain wrappings and the price of cigarettes will go up by $2.70 for a pack of 20.

I used to smoke at school; boosted my ego, a 2 or 3 a day man. Later, around exam time I'd have a few if I was studying late into the night.

One morning my 4 year old daughter, Jo was in the kitchen with me and she said, 'Dad, you know those things that are no good for your lungs, there's some up in the cupboard.' I said, 'Really', took them down and went out to the burning tin burnt them. (This was in the days when we didn't have global warming and you could have a 44 gallon drum in your back yard to burn stuff in.)

Jo turned 39 earlier this month. I haven't had a smoke since.

Anyway, back to the Government's decision.

It certainly is courageous. A lot of people are going to be very upset.

I know from my surveys that people who can't afford to smoke will take an even greater share of the houskeeping to fund their addiction. These are people who probably form a good proportion of the Labor constituency.

Whoever dreamed up this increase in taxation should first have thought about developing a strategy to assist people to kick the habit. Give comes before take. Free seminars, free counselling, free what-ever-it-takes to assist people to stop smoking. This is just another example of politics on the run by people who live in ivory towers.

Instead what have we got, just another tax on the poor and the stupid.

Maybe some people will immediately give up. I heard one fellow say that until a pack got to $20 he'd keep going.

One health adviser said that if every one cut back 2 or 3 smokes a day they're be square financially. Maybe this is what will happen.

Whatever, it's a tough assignment and it needs a thoughful, helpful, consistent, long term strategy. I see no evidence of that.

My feeling is that for Governments, smoking cessation has to be a gradual process, focussing on assisting people to give up. Instead, where is it going to park the money - into the hospitals account. How bad is that? At least half that money should be going to assist people to give it up.

Putting up the price is the stick, it's a useful strategy, but not without the carrot. It just puts people's back up.

Stratgy for the medium term - say five years

1. Restrict the sale of cigarettes to liquor outlets. This strategy would involve compensating shops that currently sell cigarettes. It would be a medium term strategy to replace their income for a period of time.

2. Funnel the current increase in tax into
- smoking cessation programs

- subsidies for shop keepers to get out of the business of selling cigarettes.

3. Restrict the number of packets people can buy at a time. This buying a carton has to stop.

4. Reduce packet sizes to 10 cigarettes. Whoever put a stop to selling packets of ten needs their head read. The bigger the packet the more people smoke. For many people restricting themselves to 10 cigarettes a day would be a good first step in the process of giving them up.

5. A more radical approach would be to ban tailor-made cigarettes. People are quite welcome to smoke but they'd have to roll their own. That would stop more than a few people from smoking. It would turn a lot of glamour pusses off smoking.

6. People who smoke should pay a higher Medicare levee.

7. From a certain date, people under 21 and over the age of 18 have to register as a new smoker and show their registration every time they purchase cigarettes. It's serious stuff. You have to have a license to drive a car, why not a license to smoke. Getting the license would invove attending a day seminar on why smoking is not a good idea.

8. In five years time every smoker needs a registration card - only obtained after a one day seminar. No card, no serve.

Prepare ye the way. The powers that be need to tell people that these things are going to happen gradually, in 5 or 10 years and during that time provide support, massive support, bags of carrots.

On the track
A long, slow run for 31 minutes. Legs tight, but happy.

In the meantime stay tuned, highly tuned and whatever you do, don't smoke.

John Miller

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