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Anti-tobacco group eyes ‘smoker’s licence’

Monday 19 Nov 2012 3:40 p.m.

Would you get a licence if you wanted to smoke?

Would you get a licence if you wanted to smoke?

By Imogen Crispe

A proposed smoker’s licence could see people forced to take a test and pay a fee before they are allowed to buy cigarettes.

The licence, proposed by Sydney University professor of public health Simon Chapman, would require applicants to pass an online 'risk knowledge' test to make sure they know the dangers of what they are about to do, as well as paying an annual fee to keep the licence.

Licence holders would be given a card which they would have to show or scan whenever they wanted to purchase cigarettes or tobacco.

Action on Smoking Health director Ben Youdan says the idea is one option which could help achieve the New Zealand Government’s goal of becoming a smoke free country by 2025.

He says there is a need for people to be coming up with ways to help smokers quit.

“If we are really serious about getting smoking rates right down […] we do need to be considering quite radical ideas.”

Mr Youdan says tobacco should be treated as the “harmful drug which it is” and likes the idea of the risk knowledge test.

“Making sure smokers really understand the huge risks of smoking is certainly something that’s an important consideration.

“The tobacco industry does a great job of playing down the risks.”

He also likes the idea that the scheme would offer people’s annual fee money back to them once they have quit and given up their licence.

“I think that would certainly act as a real incentive for people to make a quit attempt.”

But just the idea of applying for the licence may also be an incentive to quit.

“The hassle of getting the licence in the first place could prompt people to make a quit attempt,” Mr Youdan says.

But he thinks there are a number of potential disadvantages to this idea, one being that it would take a lot of bureaucracy, money and time to get it in place.

His main concern though is that it places the burden of responsibility on the smoker, rather than the tobacco companies.

“We need to be quite cautious about things which shift the burden of responsibility and blame from the tobacco companies.”

He would prefer a solution which required not just smokers to have licences, but everyone involved in getting tobacco to the market – the growers, the manufacturers, the importers, the wholesalers and the retailers.

British American Tobacco New Zealand (BATNZ) spokeswoman Susan Jones says the company strongly opposes Mr Chapman’s idea of a smoker's licence, saying it would “stigmatise and discriminate against smokers”.

"It is an insult to ask informed adults who have made the choice to smoke to sit a test before they can obtain a licence.

"There is universal awareness of tobacco health warnings in New Zealand so Professor Chapman’s suggestion that smokers would have to pass a licensing test serves no practical purpose.”

She says BATNZ also worries about the negative impact licensing could have on tourists who wouldn’t be able to buy cigarettes, and on dairy and convenience store owners who “depend on tobacco to keep people coming through the door”.

Read the full smoker's licence proposal here.

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