Last week, I estimated that I have at least $700 more in my bank account than if I had continued to purchase and smoke a packet of cigarettes each day over the last four weeks.
That's right, smoking one packet of cigarettes a day in Australia costs around $700 or more a month.
$700 a month.
Or, to put it another way, if you are working for $25 an hour, you need to work one hour a day just so you can smoke.
That's how expensive it is to smoke cigarettes in Australia today and why many smokers have already switched to 'rollies' or roll your own. So, yes I know you can smoke and spend less, but that is what I have been spending on my habit lately and I know many others that are spending even more than that.
There is no doubt that smoking tobacco cigarettes is a dirty, unhealthy habit and we never should have been smoking in airplanes. But many of us feel that the pendulum really has swung too far.
Following the latest of many excise tax increases over the last 20 years, I consider that tobacco is now more expensive to consume than cannabis.
I am not talking pound for pound here, but I am talking what a 'habit' costs and most cannabis smokers would spend way less than $25 a day in Australia.
But worse than that unintended and 'unfortunate' outcome is that you can get real jail time for growing tobacco plants or importing tobacco leaf, even if it is just for personal use. And we're talking Federal prison here as such 'criminals' are viewed by the Australian Parliament as people who are avoiding paying Federal Excises. You don't get a get out of jail free card when you're hated that much.
Yes. It was anger that lit Christopher's fuse and forced him to suspend his cigarette journey. This is a true story.
Last week, I reached a milestone after deciding I would no longer smoke cigarettes. A cigarette smoking habit had become unaffordable for me. It was more than I spent each day on, well everything else and I embarked on yet another quit adventure (3 and 2 years over 45 smoking...).
It was early days, but I hadn't smoked a cigarette for two weeks and had not bought cigarettes, other than for my Uncle John, for 29 days. Friends helped me out with one or two fags a day as I was getting up the courage to stop them altogether, but I felt like I had achieved a great deal.
Don't get me wrong. I still consider myself to be a smoker. I just haven't had a cigarette for two weeks and am currently motivated to see if I can keep this up, as I have noticed big improvements in my health and vitality. The temptation to smoke cigarettes is still there. It'll probably never leave me and I have had to completely change my habits to even get this far. Nicotine is a pretty powerful addiction, believe me.
Anyway, to celebrate and give me some additional motivation, I thought I'd start visualising and counting the 'savings' I was making by choosing not to smoke. I mean they were killing me, right? But, my real saviour was that the price just got too high for me to spend every day. I wasn't spending $25 a day on anything else and those tax hikes seemed to have been coming every few months, bang, bang, bang. That, and a steady erosion of any 'rights' smokers enjoyed over the years. A packet of 'Winnie Reds' cost 35 cents when I first bought some in Australia in 1976. That same packet is now around $30 and I estimate that the Service Stations and other convenience retailers are probably pocketing $5 and more from every single transaction.
From 35 cents to $30 in just over 40 years. Jeez, if that was inflation at work, why did it feel so wrong every time I bought some cigarettes lately?
With all these thoughts in mind last week, I walked out of the Cairns Post head office and purposely headed toward the Casino to get some of my savings out of the bank. I'd just dropped some copies of my and John's books to the journos at the Cairns Post and I'd already visualised the $700 as I walked through the Reef Casino's foyers at 10 am on Thursday.
I hoped the casino ATMs were like the others I'd experienced around Australia, full of hundred dollar bills, or Avocados as some Aussies call them on the rare occasion we see one. I guess I'm always more impressed when I bloke spends $100s, but no, out popped 14 brand new fifties, affectionately called pineapples (some people call the $50 a banana, but it's not quite the right colour IMO)...
I slipped the bright fifties into my wallet and looked around the empty foyer. The security guard had 'clocked' me, but had tuned out as I was not important and noticed there was an attendant in the Reef Kiosk. I briefly thought about going inside and past the security, slipping my money into a machine and then pressing collect, or even having a punt. I could then use the chit to get some hundreds from the cashier cage. But it was a brief thought only; the fifties were good, but they looked like crap in my old tired wallet, so ordinary and worn, I couldn't even remember the excitement of the purchase. Probably some $10 special at the dollar stores, I thought, as I stepped outside into the coolness of the morning.
I looked up and down the street and then remembered the OK Gift store on the corner, quality gifts for the tourist, particularly those from China and the rest of Asia. The shop's been on the corner of Abbott and Spence Streets for years and I knew the managers by sight as they live across from my own street in Whitfield.
I cut across the street and ended up buying an Adori, Australian-made, wallet for $90.
I took my time, chose one that is actually too flash for me, a bit feminine. The young female attendant pointed out the features of products at competing price points and finally congratulated my on the perspicacity of my choice. I would normally decline assistance, unless I needed it, but this wasn't about a wallet as the purchase was symbolic. I made a bit of a show about how important I was feeling to put all my stuff from my old wallet into this new one, particularly the money which the staff could not believe had been somehow 'saved' out of thin air.
I didn't do anything ostentatious, I didn't need to play the whole crowd, but my brief 'performance' made a few people happy about my purchase, including me, and that energy pushed me along the pavement to my car and down to Billy's on Sheraton Street for a coffee and a chat with some of the locals there.
As I slipped into some banter with some people I know, I thought I'd write about this. See, if I could motivate, well anyone, into not giving away your money every day. I mean that's where my anger stemmed, the outrageous levels of tobacco tax compared to everywhere else.
Now I know there is a big disincentive component here. All complex diseases cost resources to treat and care for the sufferers whether its prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancers or diabetes. There is some element of chance or genetics in these diseases, the rest is mostly environment, including what we put into our bodies. Sugar kills a lot of Aussies, but we aren't taxing away their legal choice to consume it.
And it is this, the 'Government' argument that we give up the smokes. They point to smokers' outrageous costs for health care and so on. Taxing ciggies they say is only about harm reduction. They don't care about the enormous quantities of excise and tobacco taxes smokers raise for the Commonwealth, the States and the Territories. Go and look what the smokers are able to fund via their voluntary tax.
It's a lot, but that is still not Christopher's point.
I went to get smokes last Wednesday for my 84 yo Uncle John. Went to usual guy I buy from, Rob's his name. He knows I've been struggling to give up, has been happy to sell me more than four types of vape devices to assist my goal, but is a genuine guy and we talk as the recent price increases have seen Australia been offered inferior cigarettes and he sees that I know something about his business and the affects it has on my Uncle, who spends every dollar and some of mine on cigarettes.
(He is age pensioner at Bupa and doing well.)
I'm still feeling a bit vulnerable as a new non smoker and I asked him Rob many of his customers had given up smoking following the latest increase in September - 12.5%
'Christopher,' he said. 'I have hundreds of regular customers. You are the only one of them who has stopped.'
'For now,' Rob added.
Anecdotes aren't evidence, but I've seen the same cigarette packets sell from around $5 twenty years ago to $25 today. It's too much and taxes at these levels I reckon are far more destructive given the large amount they take out of smokers' incomes.
Many of my mates are working people, or non working, but you get my drift.
Some of them have children. When such adults continue to purchase cigarettes at these levels of taxation, well, what's the point of the tax when some Aussie children suffer from the policies?
Australian taxes on smokers are excessive. And, you got me.