We Asked Smokers if They Would Pay $33 for a Pack of Cigarettes

Australian smokers are set to pay about $33 USD for a packet of cigarettes by 2020. We asked some of Melbourne's smokers if that was reason enough to quit.
May 10, 2016, 12:00am
All photos by Sean Foster

Australian smokers are set to pay $45 [about $33 USD] for a packet of cigarettes by September 2020. The tax increase will be gradual, with a steady rise of 12.5 percent each year between 2017 and 2020. As Australia's Treasurer Scott Morrison explained in his budget speech to the parliament: "The net impact of the tobacco measures will raise $4.7 billon over the next four years."

What this means for individuals is that cigarettes will become just about unaffordable. The government knows this, of course, which is why the whole scheme is a sneaky way to get Australians to quit. But the question is, will we? Or will smokers just get a whole lot poorer?

I wouldn't call myself a daily smoker, but I do enjoy the odd dart on a night out. Drake sums it up pretty well: "I smoke when I drink / it's tradition." But $45 a pack? My initial reaction was, Fuck that, I'll just quit, but nothing's ever that black-and-white. So to find out if others feel the same, I headed out to some nightclub smokers' areas around Melbourne.

All photos by Sean Foster

Momcilo, 20, Tradie

VICE: Hey mate, did you hear that by 2020 smokes in Australia could cost as much as $45 a pack. If that happened, would you quit?
Momcilo: I would consider it. I've tried before, but the price of smokes has never really deterred me. I've been smoking for six years. I grew up overseas and started smoking when I was in eighth grade just to fit in with the cool guys and stuff. From then, I've kept on going, and now I can't put them down.

Do you think raising the price is for the greater good?
Putting the price up will make things worse. They say upping the price will help people stop smoking, but there are homeless people smoking on the streets, so it will cause more trouble. People will start robbing one another. If cigarette prices go up, it will cause more crime. It happened a couple of months ago at that prison in Melbourne. They banned cigarettes, and it caused a riot. And that's exactly what's going to happen.

Peter, 21, DJ/Engineer

Hey Peter, if cigarettes reach $45 a pack, would you quit?
No. The thing is that it's not about making people quit. The government is just doing it as a revenue-raising scheme because it knows people aren't going to quit. At the end of the day, the government doesn't care about individuals. It cares about the fucking money, the fucking tax, all that shit. Dude, people are still going to buy cigarettes. I think if they go up to $45, 7-Eleven should be prepared for more armed robberies.

How many cigarettes would you have a day?
Depends on funds. Usually five, but more on weekends. I'm already paying $26–$30 a deck. I've traveled the world. In America, ciggies are five or six bucks. In Greece, they're two or three euros. Like, instead of being a nanny state and making people quit, people can take charge of their own actions and do what they want. If people want to smoke and go kill themselves, then yeah, go do that. People know the risks.

Jessica, 19, works at McDonald's

Hey Jess, cigarettes are set to go up to $45 a pack. If that was the case, would you still buy smokes?
I'm not a pack-a-day smoker, but I'll buy a deck if I'm going out. I would consider quitting because the price range is ridiculous, but hopefully I'm not smoking by 2020. It's a sort of an age thing, I guess. You know we're young and having fun, so have a dart with mates and all that. But once I get to a certain age, I'll start to settle down.

When did you first start smoking?
When I was sixteen. Everyone was doing it, so I guess it was peer pressure. I reckon it's a good way to get to know people as well. You'll have a dart, and the conversation starts.

Let's imagine a world where smokes went up to $45 tomorrow, and you're heading out. Do you buy a pack?
It's pretty bad to say yes. It all depends on money situation, but I reckon, yeah. You see people who have been trying to quit for forty years, and if the price goes up, it's pretty unfair to just expect them to quit. They're still going to have to buy darts to keep them going in their daily routine.

Darz, 25, pizza chef

Hey mate, do you smoke every day?
Yeah, most days. I only started smoking a year and a half ago. But I've smoked weed every day for ten years. And the first time I quit weed for a few months, that's when I picked up cigarettes, which wasn't good.

Do you prefer weed or cigarettes?
They both have their negatives. Weed makes you lazy as fuck, but it's not as bad as cigarettes. You can't win mate.

How would you feel if smokes went up to $45 a pack?
I'll be quitting. Well, I hope I would be. Otherwise I'll be pretty fucking broke. I think it's a good thing because it will make people smoke less.

What is it about smoking you enjoy?
Just the feeling. Like, I don't know. It's kind of a habit now. Just shows you how addictive it is. I don't know what the fuck I enjoy about it. When I smoke weed, I get a feeling, but with cigarettes, you're just killing yourself.

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