Smokers Say Tobacco Tax Increase Has Limited Impact On Them Kicking The Habit
During the Budget 2023 speech on Tuesday (14 Feb), Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong announced that Singapore will be introducing a 15% increase in tobacco excise duty.
He explained that this is part of the Government’s efforts to discourage the consumption of tobacco products.
However, it’s no secret that legislation and price increases sometimes just aren’t enough to stop people from indulging in vices.
MS News spoke to a few smokers to get their thoughts.
While some said that the tax increase is a good reason to try to quit smoking, others said it’s something they have experienced before and will not deter them from smoking.
Pack of cigarettes now costs S$1.50 more
A pack of Marlboro cigarettes that used to cost S$14 now costs S$15.52.
“Last time it was below S$12 at most convenience stores, S$11.80 to S$11.90 max,” said 34-year-old Bernard Wong, who started smoking about 11 years ago.
Echoing his sentiments, 30-year-old Clarence Pang said he started smoking when S$12 packs were considered expensive. This has since become the norm, even before the tax increase.
Many like him saw the increased tobacco tax coming and have been affected by such increases before.
Duties for tobacco products were last increased by 10% in 2018, after a 10% hike in 2014.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are “dramatic” benefits to raising tobacco taxes.
Besides encouraging some people to stop smoking, it generates revenue for governments.
Mr Wong said as much in Parliament — the increased tax will “discourage the consumption of tobacco products” and generate about S$100 million in additional revenue a year.
Yet this catch-all solution might just be too simple a way out when it comes to people who are used to getting their regular nicotine fix.
Most smokers will not change behaviour even with tobacco tax increase
Some are already feeling the pinch from the changes.
26-year-old video producer Iskandar, who typically goes through a pack in three or four days, said he is more cautious about how many sticks he smokes a day now.
If this trend continues, he feels that his options are limited: find cheaper brands or try to quit.
“I will take it as an opportunity to smoke less and eventually quit the bad habit,” he said.
Bernard shared these sentiments, explaining that the expenditure is starting to feel harder to justify.
Quitting smoking was already one of his New Year’s resolutions but he is taking the tax increase as another sign to give it up.
But for other smokers who are not at that point in their journey, the increased tax will not change their behaviour.
Smoking is a destresser for many. Veronica Lau, a 23-year-old freelancer, said she has tried to quit cold turkey but always ended up going back to it when stressed.
She told MS News that the hike does not give her a reason to stop as she can still afford to pay the increased prices.
28-year-old Camille, a business consultant, smokes about three packs a week.
Smoking is her way of coping with anxiety. While she admits it isn’t the best way, she says that other options like therapy are expensive and not readily available.
The increased cost will not deter her from smoking as well.
Many seemed to have adopted this “suck it up and pay” attitude. After all, smokers are no stranger to cigarette price increases over the years.
Casual smokers also expressed that the slight change in price will not stop them from lighting up occasionally.
Fear that more will turn to illegal alternatives
Out of the 12 smokers MS News spoke to, only one expressed strong intentions of quitting.
Two others mentioned the possibility of quitting while the rest said the price increase will not deter them from smoking.
For some, smoking is a non-negotiable part of their daily lives. So much so that they are willing to make sacrifices in other areas of their lives.
Camille, as well as 57-year-old Jalil, said they would rather “eat less, work more” to make up for the price increase of cigarettes.
Several smokers also worried that people might turn to illegal alternatives, such as contraband cigarettes and vaping.
One respondent revealed that for the price of a pack of cigarettes, one can get their hands on a box of e-vaporiser pods.
While the former will last about three to four days, the latter can last a month.
Others admitted that vaping is getting increasingly appealing due to its price point and convenience.
According to HealthHub, vaping is harmful and has been linked to lung injuries. E-vaporisers are prohibited in Singapore.
Hope more can be done to help those addicted
During his speech on 14 Feb, Mr Wong said the tobacco tax increase is expected to bring in an additional S$100 million in government revenue a year.
29-year-old Danielle said instead of being a deterrence to smoking, it felt like authorities were generating revenue from smokers’ addictions.
And while there is little resistance to this in the general population, it can become a sore point for smokers.
Clarence said if this is the government’s way of reducing tobacco addiction, he’s “all for it”.
Nonetheless, he hopes they will also see if more can be done to aid smokers instead of just taxing them.
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