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Introducing a low tax category for very low nicotine content cigarettes would rapidly reduce smoking rates to much lower levels, according to a public health medicine specialist.
In his study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, End Smoking NZ Trust chairman Murray Laugesen found that imposing less tax on denicotinised, or denic, cigarettes would reduce consumption of normal, addictive cigarettes.
A two-tier excise policy would be kinder to smokers, allowing them to select and smoke a mix of expensive addictive cigarettes and low-cost denics to control smoking costs, reduce cravings and help people quit.
"A lower tax rate classification for denics would make it politically easier to increase the price of (addictive cigarettes) and thereby reduce smoking more rapidly to much lower levels," Dr Laugesen concluded.
He said all cigarettes generate toxic chemicals in the smoke regardless of nicotine content, but reducing the degree of addiction would make success easier for the one third of smokers who attempt to quite each year.
"Denic smoke being as toxic as (addictive cigarette) smoke but less addictive would merit an excise rate set and held at say 80 per cent of the 2012 rate, creating price incentives for smokers to switch from their their current ... brands, and for manufacturers and importers to make or sell denic cigarettes.
"Sale of denic cigarettes wherever (addictive cigarettes) are sold would provide an escape product for addicted smokers facing higher prices each January over the next four years."
He said denics could succeed in New Zealand because smokers would not be asked to quit smoking, only to smoke less nicotine.