Cigarette prices are rapidly averaging at about $50 per packet in Australia. Right now, Australia is sprouting one of the highest costs of cigarettes, just behind Norway and Ireland.
It doesn’t stop there. There are rumors and talks of the Turnbull Government possibly raising cigarette prices even more. On top of that, in 2016, the Australian Labor Party had given its word, that should they be elected, they would increase the tobacco excise by 12.5% every year and by 2020, the projected price of cigarettes would approximately be around $40 a pack.
However, it’s now only 2019 and they weren’t elected. Yet, we’re looking at a cigarette pack costing about $50 already. The average cost of smoking now looks to be approximately $10,000 a year. The future looks grim for the smoking scene in Australia, and it seems like this just might be the push the government is striving for in reducing smoking rates in the country.
But Australia’s smokers have displayed their resilient side; despite all the hikes in pricing, they’ve managed to find ways to work around the laws and taxes surrounding cigarettes. Instead of succumbing to these high prices, Australian sellers have found loopholes that allow the sales of cheap cigarettes.
Importing Cheap Cigarettes into Australia
While Australia has reduced the number of duty-free cigarettes one can take home from overseas, there’s nothing preventing sellers from importing way above the legal meager 50 sticks by mail. Normally, one stick comes with around $0.55 in duty, but only if they’re detected by the Australian customs. If so, you’d be looking at almost $11 in duty per pack.
So how do sellers circumvent this? Well, overseas online suppliers of cigarettes from Eastern Europe and Asia are willing to gift-wrap cigarette packs so that they can avoid detection. As a result, Australian sellers are able to procure cigarette packs for as low as $5 per pack. This is why they’re willing to risk the consequences of getting found out by the Australian Border Force.
With such a low-cost price per pack, they’re able to make more than double the profit by selling a pack for about $15. That’s half the price of a legally-sold cigarette pack. It’s a win-win situation for both the smokers and the sellers, so they’re willing to risk the repercussions of getting caught. And with such an obvious black market and loophole around the high costs of legally sold cigarette packs, the demand for these cheap, smuggled cigarettes is only increasing.
Aside from that, more and more Australians are turning to illegal loose-leaf tobacco, known as chop-chop, a product that is homegrown. While many have found that the taste and smell of chop-chop are far inferior to legal tobacco, the amount of money they save relative to legal purchases compensates for that.
However, there’s a debate about the chop-chop. On one hand, some have found it to be healthier than legal tobacco, and according to research, this is because it contains pulp from raw cabbage leaves, grass, and hay. On the other hand, others have found that chop-chop potentially causes more severe illnesses and potential fatality in its consumers. This is attributed to the high chance of fungi and mold contaminating the mix, and these substances are toxic in nature. The illnesses the consumer could contract range from allergies to chronic respiratory diseases, and various types of cancer.
In another vein, young people roll their own joints, especially since many of them are still in college or studying and can’t afford the finances required to sustain this habit legally.
There are several concerns about this trend. In 2015, people who roll their own joints made up a third of Australia’s smokers. Many of them are young people, and more of them are starting to roll their cannabis joints with tobacco. Cannabis alone has not been found to give rise to health concerns, but tobacco has always been found to cause 17 different types of cancer, ranging from the lungs to the bladder.
It appears that raising the price of cigarette packs have only made Australians more driven and determined to find ways around it regardless of the implications on their health.
Efforts to reduce smoking rates in Australia
According to Australia’s Department of Health, the country loses about 15,000 people to smoking yearly, also incurring a loss of approximately $31.5 billion. There is a general consensus in the government that increasing the price of cigarettes is crucial in pushing Australians into breaking the habit and preventing non-smokers from taking it up.
However, while the absurd tax on tobacco has generated some results in reducing smoking rates, this rise disproportionately affects habitual smokers who have a low income. This increases the chances of this group of smokers experiencing withdrawal symptoms and altered behavioral patterns which tend to lead to relationship problems with their friends and families.
Another effort made towards reducing smoking rates is the implementation of plain packaging on cigarette packs. This is designed to reduce the visual attractiveness of tobacco products and its overall appeal to smokers. While it has deterred people from purchasing cigarette packs with plain packaging, it has only driven them to other sellers to buy more bright and colorful cigarette packs.
The dilemma the government is facing now is this: hiking up the prices of legally sold tobacco has not succeeded in significantly reducing the rates of smoking amongst habitual smokers. Yet, what else can they do? What’s more, if the price increase goes on, the projected impact on their health and finances either remains unchanged or turns drastic. These smokers would either be spending a huge portion of their income in purchasing cigarettes or, when they finally are not able to financially sustain this habit anymore, fall into concerning mental and behavioral patterns.
Right now, the main thing sustaining the smoking scene is the loophole in import laws. If this loophole were to be patched up, the consequences will ultimately still lead to severe financial and health implications, and at what cost?
The question remains. How do you effectively get people to quit smoking from the ground up?