Should there be a rise in tobacco tax?

The AM Show 11/07/2019

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett says it's about time New Zealand stops upping the tax on tobacco.

New Zealand has lifted the excise tax on tobacco every year since 2010, lifting the cost of cigarettes from around $11 for a pack of 20 to $25.45 by January 2018.

It was lifted again in 2019, with the Government saying at the time it was yet to decide what to do in 2020.

Bennett told The AM Show on Wednesday she's in favour of trying levers other than upping the cost.

"I would kind of argue that surely we're about done and certainly some of the evidence says this around tobacco.

We've kind of taxed it as much as it can be.

"[It's] putting people off it and it should be looked at carefully."

An EY report in 2018 found fewer youths had taken up smoking since the policy began, but significant inequities remained for Māori and Pacific communities.

She was facing questions about the safety of businesses selling items like alcohol and cigarettes after 27 trusts liquor stores were forced to close temporarily due to a spate of aggravated robberies.

Bennett said National put plenty of work in while it was in Government.

"We put more police on the beat we certainly looked at supporting those dairy owners, we put more into the shops and that sort of thing."

The AM Show host Ryan Bridge pointed out there wasn't much uptake on Bennett's $1.8 million fund for small business owners to install security equipment to prevent robberies.

But Bennett said she didn't have the time in Government to prove how well it was going.

"It was only put in a couple of months before we were kicked out [of Government], so it hadn't had time to bed in and look at what could and couldn't be done.

If we really want to stop it we're getting into these people's lives earlier.

"[Those] who are committing these crimes, and seeing them turn around and targetting support at them."

The scheme was announced in June 2017, nine months before the general election. The funding was in response to an 87 percent rise in aggravated robberies between June 2016 and May 2017.

Most of the robberies focussed on high-value items like cigarettes, alcohol and cash.  

Stuart Nash extended funding for security in dairies in 2018, moving to cover all but $250 of the cost to install fog cannons to deter robbers.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Katie Fitzgerald