Most of us know that smoking is bad news, yet 17.5 percent of the Australian population still light up. With speculation a pack of cigarettes will soon cost $20, is this the best way to get us to butt out?
A 2009 report from the federal government-commissioned National Preventative Health Taskforce proposed a tax increase for cigarettes. The increase will see a pack cost $20. The government say they are committed to reducing smoking rates but critics argue it's a revenue-raising scheme.
It's no secret that smoking is bad for you. Thanks to various public health campaigns over the years, including many that have been confronting and controversial, Australians know that smoking increases your risk of heart disease, emphysema and a host of cancers.
Consequently, in the last 30 years there has been shift from most people smoking to most people not yet tobacco is still the number-one cause of preventable death in Australia.
And according to the University of Sydney's smoking cessation research unit, the healthcare cost for a smoker of any age is about 40 percent more than for a non-smoker.
A big cost to your health
Research confirms that health fears are one of the key drivers to get people to quit.
"Health is one of the bigger motivators and one of our challenges is reminding and educating people what the health impacts are," says Luke Atkin, manager of Quit support programs at Quit Victoria.
So with health fears holding such sway, it may seem the federal government is misguided with its focus on cost measures. But along with health, cost is the other major decide-to-quit factor.
"We hold a lot of focus groups with smokers to find out what would encourage them to think about quitting. And cost is consistently something people talk about," Atkin explains.
International experience backs up the research. "In countries where cigarettes do cost a lot more, there are decreases in the numbers of people smoking when the cost has been increased," Atkin says.
Not surprisingly, organisations such as the Cancer Council and Quit support the proposed increases to cigarette taxes.
The federal government may be on the right track to discourage smokers. But what of those people with a loved one who they wish would quit but won't. "It's hard," acknowledges Luke Atkin. "You want to be gently encouraging and a motivator, as opposed to something who is harping or nagging."
Atkin advises being open with loved ones about how their smoking impacts on them and other family members especially children. It's a tactic similar to the one Quit has used in a recent television campaign, where a dying 38-year-old mother wonders who will kiss her kids goodnight when she's gone.
"These ads raise awareness of the effect smoking has on the people around you," Atkin says. "The reality is for those with smoking-related illness, it's the people who care for and love them who are most affected."
The future for cigarettes
The federal government's goal is to reduce smoking rates to 9 percent by 2020. Along with the price increases, other proposed changes include plain packaging and even bigger health warnings on cigarette packs.
Interestingly, Quit says 60 percent of smokers support raising the price of cigarettes. It seems those who still light up have heard the health campaigns and are searching for another piece of motivation to complete the quit-smoking puzzle.