A costly venture into tobacco nationalisation

It has been reported by major press outlets today that the federal opposition plans to radically increase the tobacco tax burden, should it be elected to government. In the Australian Financial Review today:

The cost of cigarettes will surge to more than $40 a pack under a future Labor government and put Australia back in line with the world’s most aggressive anti-tobacco jurisdictions.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will announce on Tuesday Labor’s plans to increase the excise rate by 12.5 per cent for four years from mid-2017, raising an extra $47 billion over a decade for Canberra’s coffers.

According to World Health Organisation data, tobacco excise accounts for 49 per cent of the retail price of a pack of 25 cigarettes in Australia. With the GST adding another nine per cent, total taxes represent 58 per cent of retail tobacco prices.

With reports saying the proposal aims to set tobacco excise at 75 per cent of the retail price of a pack of 25 cigarettes, what we have here is little more than a cynical exercise in tobacco product nationalisation.

Governments in recent years have effectively taken complete control over the packaging attributes of cigarettes sold in formal markets, and are steadily exerting price control over the product itself.

Politicians paternalistically exhort Australians to give up their smokes, but not too many all at once because government itself is becoming hooked on tobacco revenue to close its overspending budget gap.

The continuing existence of smokers also gives health bureaucrats an alibi to control the features of tobacco products themselves, despite plain packaging proving ineffective in reducing smoking.

The irony of this situation would not be lost on most Australians.

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