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The Government is keeping mum on whether it intends to keep a National promise to legalise e-cigarettes after renewed calls for a law change as aggravated dairy robberies increase and fewer people quit smoking.
Tax hikes on cigarettes have prompted just 10% of the smoking population- about 550,000- to quit but retailers are bearing the brunt of the consequences as dairy robberies increase, the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union says.
The group is calling for the legalisation of e-cigarettes, which are illegal to sell, supply or give away, but the new Labour-led Government isn't committing to a previous National vow to regulate their use.
The union today released a report on the social effects of the tax hike, Up In Smoke: The Social Cost of Tobacco Excise, ahead of tomorrow's 10% tax increase on cigarettes, and accused the Government of being more interested in revenue gathering than reducing harm.
The report, compiled with data and research collected from the Ministry of Health, Otago University and police, shows that despite a 60% price rise in the price of cigarettes only one in 10 people had quit and there was no statistical change in Maori and Pasifika groups.
Packets of 20 cigarettes now cost anything between $22 to almost $28 depending on the brand.
In contrast aggravated robberies are on the rise with police intelligence documents revealing cigarette retailers were targeted 490 times in a 13-month period.
Union director Jordan Williams says the tax hike regime in a bid to have a smokefree country by 2025 is a "complete failure".
Households had less money and people were more likely to buy black market tobacco, fuelling further robberies, he said.
"The Government's foot dragging suggests that the higher taxes were not about health, but about the money all along. The Government should halt increases to tobacco taxes, at least until the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine are fully legalised."
In March the previous Government announced their intention to legalise the products and a consultation document was put out in August.
However Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa told the Herald on Sunday she wasn't in a hurry to make a decision on legalisation. She had asked officials to provide her with information on the issue, which she said she took seriously.
"There are no quick solutions to reducing harm from smoking or these crimes so we are looking broadly and thoroughly to ensure we make the best decisions we can in the interests of New Zealanders," she said in a statement.
"Weeks into a new Government and with a focus on first 100 days priorities we have not yet had time to fully consider e-cigarettes."
Police intelligence documents attributed the cost of tobacco as a likely contributing factor on dairy robberies because of the high returns on black market tobacco, thought to be as high as a $10 profit on a $20 pack of cigarettes.
Dairy robberies are so frequent this year police launched a $1.8m anti robbery scheme so vulnerable small businesses could apply for funding to beef up security.
New Zealand Association of Dairies, Groceries and Small Businesses Association president Naginbhai Neil Patel said its members didn't feel well supported by the Government, and although security grants were good, it was akin to an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
"They work hard. They don't want to go on the dole and they want to be independent and they want to be self employed. They work 24/7 and they need support," he said of the association's members.
"The high tax doesn't help. Robberies are increasing- it's like a jewellery shop with high value items."