Raise tax on tobacco and make smokers pay for health costs

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 July, 2017, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 July, 2017, 10:31pm

I support Gauri Venkitaraman’s plea for bans in public areas where the permeation of cigarette smoke is harmful for passers-by or those trying to enjoy the outdoors (“Smoking in public leaves even non-smokers in Hong Kong facing serious health risks”, July 11).

Non-smokers in proximity risk having their asthma flare up. Curious toddlers could become poisoned by ingesting carelessly discarded butts.

The fire contagion risk posed by still-burning cigarette ends is well known during the height of Australia’s bush-fire-prone sizzling summer and hot summers elsewhere. Less smoking means fewer discarded butts posing a fire hazard. Another reason to impose smoking bans is to prevent adverse lifestyle role modelling for impressionable children.

From a public health perspective, raising tobacco sales tax is likely to reduce daily cigarette consumption and, more importantly, dissuade adolescents from taking up smoking. The cost disincentive of a higher tax holds the potential to improve the community burden of heart and lung disease that consumes avoidable health-care outlays.

It’s about time smokers who adopt unhealthy life habits subsidised the huge expense incurred in treating the acute exacerbation of chronic lung disease, pulmonary community rehabilitation as well as stents and bypass surgery required to alleviate coronary artery disease. Smokers have an addiction requiring an external agency to help them give up.

Imposing higher taxes on fast food and alcohol offers opportunities to improve public health related to “diabesity”​ (diabetes plus obesity), alcohol-related trauma and interpersonal violence. If we can extend sales tax disincentives to fast food and alcohol, then claims that a tobacco tax discriminates against smokers cannot be justified.

Joseph Ting, associate professor, School of Public Health and

Social Work, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia