Aim: To review the evidence relating to tobacco taxation as a health and equity protecting policy for New Zealand.
Methods: Searches of Medline, EconLit, ECONbase, Index NZ, and library databases for literature on tobacco taxation.
Results: The New Zealand evidence indicates that increases in tobacco prices are associated with decreases in tobacco consumption in the general population over the long term. This finding comes from multiple studies relating to: tobacco supplies released from bond, supermarket tobacco sales, household tobacco expenditure data, trends in smoking prevalence data, and from data on calls to the Quitline service. For the 1988-1998 period, the overall price elasticity of demand for all smoking households was estimated to be such that a 10% price increase would lower demand by 5% to 8%. Two studies are suggestive that increased tobacco affordability is also a risk factor for higher youth smoking rates. There is evidence from two studies that tobacco price increases reduce tobacco consumption in some low-income groups and one other study indicates that tobacco taxation is likely to be providing overall health benefit to low-income New Zealanders. These findings are broadly consistent with the very large body of scientific evidence from other developed countries.
Conclusions: There is good evidence that tobacco taxation is associated with reduced tobacco consumption in the New Zealand setting, and some limited evidence for equity benefits from taxation increases. Substantial scope exists for improving tobacco taxation policy in New Zealand to better protect public health and to improve equity.