13.12 Public opinion about tobacco tax increases

Australians have been generally supportive of the idea of taxing tobacco products, and levels of support have grown over time.

13.12.1 Results of early state-based public opinion surveys

A study by The University of Melbourne in 1985 examined public attitudes towards a variety of government taxes and expenditures1 including income taxes, taxes on motor vehicles, sales taxes, company tax, import duty and customs and taxes on alcohol. The only tax for which a majority (51.8%) supported an increase was tax on tobacco products.

A number of subsequent statewide polls assessing public opinion about tobacco tax increases have been undertaken in successive decades. Findings of some of the early surveys are summarised in Table 13.12.1. In general, the surveys have shown broad and growing support for increased tobacco taxes, especially if revenue from the tax increases is used for health education among children. (Most of the earlier surveys also examined public attitudes towards tobacco advertising and sponsorship. This information is not included in Table 13.12.1.)

Table 13.12.1
Results of early surveys of public opinion on tobacco tax increases in six Australian states and nationally, selected years 1987–98

Vic

SA

NSW

Tas

Qld

WA

Australia

June
1987

December 1987

July
1988

August 1989

July
1990

May
1993

February 1998

Approve unconditional increase in tax (% of adults approving)

47

55

56

59

66

60

 

Approve tax inc. funds being used to discourage children from smoking (% of adults approving)

84

82

88

89

92

88*

96

Sources: Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria,2 Anti-Cancer Foundation of the University of South Australia,3 New South Wales Cancer Council,4 Tasmanian Cancer Committee,5-7 Queensland Cancer Fund,7 Australian Medical Association,8 and Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria9

* In Western Australia the question concerned funding directed to health services.

A later study in Victoria in 2003 found that, even among daily smokers, almost half (48%) would support an increase in taxes if the money were directed to quit smoking efforts.10 Of those who approved of a rise in cigarette tax, over half (51%) thought that the increases should be 50 cents or more per pack of 25 cigarettes (Table 13.12.2).

Table 13.12.2
Daily smokers' views on how much the tax on cigarettes should be increased if the revenue raised were to go to quit-smoking resources, Victoria, Australia, 2003

Response

Daily smokers who approved of tax increase
(n = 215)

 

% of smokers approving

1 cent

9.9

10 cents

12.2

25 cents

13.3

50 cents

22.7

1 dollar

18.0

2 dollars or more

10.0

Another amount

4.6

Don't know / Can't say

9.3

Source: Memorandum from Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer to Todd Harper and Jane Martin of the Victorian Smoking and Health Program, 2004

* Data are weighted by age and sex to Victorian ABS 2003 figures. Figures do not sum to 100 due to weighting.

In further studies in 2008 and 2009, more than 80% of Victorians approved of a tax increase on cigarettes if some of the money were to be used to fund services to help smokers quit (communicated by M McCarthy, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer to Quit Victoria, 2009 and 2010). Approval was significantly higher among former smokers and never smokers, compared with current smokers (83% and 88% compared to 61%, respectively (Table 13.12.3).

Approval for increasing the tax on cigarettes was also higher with higher with socio-economic status (Table 13.12.4).

Table 13.12.3
Approval for a tax increase on cigarettes if extra funding were given to services to help smokers quit: current smokers, former smokers, never smokers and total population, Victoria, Australia, November 2009

Response

Current smokers (%)
(n=823)

Former smokers (%) (n=1346)

Never smokers (%)
(n=2334)

Total (%)
(n=4503)

Approve

65.0

84.4

89.9

83.6

Neither approve nor disapprove

2.4

2.0

1.6

1.8

Disapprove

32.0

12.8

7.3

13.5

Don't know / Can't say

0.6

0.8

1.2

1.0

Source: Communication from M McCarthy, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, to Quit Victoria, 2010

Note: Respondents were asked: 'As you may know, governments raise money by taxing tobacco products. Some of the money raised from taxes could be used to fund services that help smokers to quit smoking, such as the Quitline telephone service. Would you approve or disapprove of an increase in the tax on cigarettes if the government gave extra funding to services to help smokers quit?'

Table 13.12.4
Approval for a tax increase on cigarettes if extra funding were given to services to help smokers quit: total population and by socio-economic status, Victoria, Australia, November 2008

Response

Total (%) (n=4503)

Low SES (%) (n=1600)

Mid SES (%) (n=1686)

High SES (%) (n=1217)

Approve

81.2

77.5

82.0

84.8

Neither approve nor disapprove

2.9

3.7

2.6

2.2

Disapprove

14.3

16.9

13.7

11.6

Don't know / Can't say

1.7

1.9

1.7

1.4

Source: Communication from M McCarthy, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, to Quit Victoria, 2009

13.12.2 Results of national surveys

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey has collected data on public opinion on tax increases in its three-yearly surveys since 1998.

Support for increasing the tax on tobacco products to pay for health education has risen steadily over time. Analysis of data by gender indicates that the increase in support has occurred among men and women (Table 13.12.6).

Table 13.12.5
Support for increasing the tax on tobacco products to pay for health education, proportion of the population aged 14 years or older, Australia, 1998–2010

Support for increase in taxes on tobacco to:

1998 (%)

2001 (%)

2004 (%)

2007 (%)

2010 (%)

Pay for health education

61.6

64.3

64.5

67.1

68.7

Contribute to treatment costs

65.9

67.0

67.1

68.6

70.2

Discourage smoking

60.4

61.1

63.3

65.7

66.7

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2002,11 2005,12 200813 and 201113

Table 13.12.6
Support for increasing the tax on tobacco products to pay for health education, proportion of the population aged 14 years or older, Australia, 2004 to 2010: females compared to males

 

Males (%)

Females (%)

Persons (%)

Support for increase in taxes on tobacco to:

2004

2007

2010

2004

2007

2010

2004

2007

2010

... pay for health education

61.8

65.1

66.6

67.0

69.1

70.7

64.5

67.1

68.7

... contribute to treatment costs

64.9

66.9

68.4

69.2

70.2

71.9

67.1

68.6

70.2

...discourage smoking

60.3

63.7

64.6

66.1

67.6

68.7

63.3

65.7

66.7

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2002,11 2005,12 200813 and 201113

13.12.3 Results of focus group research

Focus group research described by Carter and Chapman in 2006 indicated that Australian smokers were cynical about tax increases when revenue is not used for programs to discourage smoking. Without such investment in programs, smokers who participated in the study felt that governments did not have the moral authority to further raise taxes.14

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References

1. Heady B, Holmstrom E and Wearing A. Government taxes and expenditures: what does the public want? Melbourne, Australia: University of Melbourne, 1985.

2. Hill D. Public opinion on tobacco advertising, sports sponsorships and taxation prior to the Victorian Tobacco Act, 1987. Community Health Studies 1988;12(3):282–8. Available from: http://www.quit.org.au/downloads/QE/QE3/HomeQE3.html

3. Vernon-Roberts B. Morgan Gallup poll on smoking issues in South Australia [Media release] . Adelaide: 1988 [viewed January 1988] .

4. Steel K. 2.8 million electors approve of changes in law [Media release] . Sydney: 1988 [viewed August 1988] .

5. Gazette no. s317 2004. 4 August

6. ASH Australia. Results of Morgan research on support for tax increases, Unpublished data. Hobart: Tasmanian Cancer Committee. 1989.

7. Brien G. Queenslanders demand action on cigarettes [Media release] . Brisbane, Australia: 1990 [viewed July 1990] .

8. Woollard K and Walker N. Western Australian's support for tobacco control, Unpublished data. Perth: Australian Medical Association and Australian Council on Smoking and Health. Media release, 27 May 1993.

9. Borland R and Boulter J. Public Opinion about use of Tobacco Taxes for Tobacco Control and other issues. Melbourne, Australia: Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria., 1998.

10. Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, The Cancer Council Victoria Melbourne, Australia. View about increasing the tax on cigarettes for increased funding for quit smoking resources (personal communication). Memorandum to Todd Harper and Jane Martin of the Victorian Smoking and Health Program, 2004.

11. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: detailed findings. Drug statistics series no. 11, AIHW cat. no. PHE 41. Canberra: AIHW, 2002. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/index.cfm/title/8227

12. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: detailed findings. Drug strategy series no.16, AIHW cat. no. PHE 66. Canberra: AIHW, 2005. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/phe/ndshsdf04/ndshsdf04.pdf

13. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: detailed findings. Drug statistics series no. 22, AIHW cat. no. PHE 107. Canberra: AIHW, 2008. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/index.cfm/title/10674

14. Carter SM and Chapman S. Smokers and non-smokers talk about regulatory options in tobacco control. Tobacco Control 2006;15(5):398-404. Available from: http://tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/15/5/398

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