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VIC Federal Tobacco Excise - Australian Government Discrimination?

Discussion in 'Other/General Law Forum' started by Stev, 10 March 2015.

  1. Stev

    Stev Member

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    Hi, I'm not too sure where to turn with this question and appreciate any advice.

    The question is is the government being discriminatory with its tobacco excise against lower income earners and is there anything that can be done to reduce the excise? Can the government be forced to reduce it because it unfairly targets the lower socioeconomic sector of our community?

    I run pro smoking lobby and receive consistent complaints about the level of tax being placed on cigarettes along with the ever increasing laws banning smoking in public and now private areas. "Where will it stop?" people ask. I'm not saying tobacco is good for you or that prohibiting smoking in some public places isn't fair and reasonable however there seems to be a level of extremism in all levels of government around smoking that, were the same laws applied to other products would be seen as discriminatory. IE: You can't eat here because you weigh 220kg. Yet obesity and diabetes is a massive problem that the government and health sector is fairly silent on.

    It's also felt that the second hand smoke argument is dubious with little to no proof that occasionally inhaling second hand smoke is any more dangerous than waiting for a bus on a busy corner inhaling car fumes. Forcing someone standing by themselves out from under a bus shelter into the rain because they want a smoke appears to be quite totalitarian.

    The question is is the government being discriminatory by allowing a highly addictive product to be sold across the country but then pricing it so high that people inevitably take money from other areas of their lives (food, clothing) to support the habit. Unfortunately it's often kids who end up suffering because the money assigned to buy them food and clothes is being eaten into by the insanely high tobacco excise combined with low wages.

    Is there any legal grounds under Australian Law to force the government to reverse the tobacco excise along with several other anti smoking laws and bring it in line with comparable countries?

    Thanks for any advice. I appreciate many here probably don't smoke..
     
  2. hlly

    hlly Well-Known Member

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    On the whole, it seems very likely that the excise is lawful. There are several reasons for this. The Commonwealth Constitution allows the Commonwealth to make laws with respect to excise. Moreover, low income earners are not specifically protected under Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation. There is nothing (except for considerations of morality and reason) stopping anybody from discriminating against low income earners if they choose.
     
  3. Ivy

    Ivy Well-Known Member

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    As said above, the Federal Government is granted the power to make laws with regards to excise and there isn't any anti-discrimination law that applies here.

    Additionally, you can't legally force Australia to make laws that are consistent with other countries unless Australia is bound by an international treaty and even then, enforcing Australia's international obligations is difficult unless Australia has enacted domestic legislation that adopts the international treaty/ agreeement that was signed onto/ ratified.

    In any case, this is all theoretical discussion. To my knowledge, there is no international law that prohibits Australia from creating domestic laws for the health and safety of its citizens. In fact, agreements such as the General Agreement on International Tariffs and Trade specifically allow countries to make laws that protect the health and safety of their citizens, even if this limits international trade.

    So you are essentially making a political, rather than a legal argument. Your best recourse is to convince your local MP that the excise laws are harming people from low socio-economic backgrounds. Arguably, an excise law is not the best policy option for trying to prevent a particular behaviour or consumption practice and there is previous policy evidence of this in Australia and overseas. There was a lengthy and heated political discussion on this point in regards to a possible "junk food tax".

    Instead of hitting low-income families with higher costs of products that they are addicted to and therefore can't easily choose to stop consuming, a better policy option might be (for example) providing free or subsidised access to quitting programs.

    Just a thought. But as I said, your best (and probably only) option is to have your voice heard by politicians.
     
  4. Stev

    Stev Member

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    Thanks very much for some clarity on this.

    I met with some exec's of Phillip Morris last week and that was an enlightening conversation. The point most interesting I gleaned was that politicians aren't factoring the use of illegal tobacco when citing falls in smoking. They are going on drops in official tobacco sales but what understandably worries the industry most is the use of illegal tobacco. In this sense I wondered, if the government are corralling low income smokers to acquire affordable but illegal tobacco, is that forcing people into some level of criminality due to the policy? And if that can be argued, can it be established that the excise is having a more harmful affect than not? Especially if in fact there aren't any falls in smoking rates. I appreciate these are long shots and probably have no chance of succeeding.

    There are two more price hikes passed in parliament scheduled for September 2015 and 2016. Smokers appear to have very few friends in politics on this issue although the LDP seem most likely to stick up for people who choose to smoke.

    The other interesting point I got from Phillip Morris is there is no one willing to go public and be a spokesman for smokers even though it would be welcomed by the smoking public (4+ million Australians). Admittedly I'm not prepared to either as I have no desire to be castigated in public because I enjoy a cigarette.

    Thanks again for the advice.
     

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