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Tobacco spending and children in low income households
  1. G W Thomson1,
  2. N A Wilson2,
  3. D O’Dea1,
  4. P J Reid1,
  5. P Howden-Chapman1
  1. 1Department of Public Health, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand
  2. 2Wellington, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to:
 George Thomson, Department of Public Health, Wellington Medical School, University of Otago, Box 7343 Wellington South, New Zealand;


Objective: To examine the role of tobacco use in creating financial hardship for New Zealand (NZ) low income households with children.

Data: The 1996 NZ census (smoking prevalence by household types), Statistics NZ (household spending surveys 1988-98), and NZ Customs (tobacco released from bond 1988-98).

Main outcome measures: Proportion of children in households with smokers and ≤$NZ15 000 gross income per adult. Proportion of spending on tobacco of second lowest equivalised household disposable income decile and of solo parent households.

Results: In ≤$NZ15 000 gross income per adult households with both children and smokers, there were over 90 000 children, or 11% of the total population aged less than 15 years. Enabling second lowest income decile households with smokers to be smoker-free would on average allow an estimated 14% of the non-housing budgets of those households to be reallocated.

Conclusions: The children in low income households with smokers need to be protected from the financial hardship caused by tobacco use. This protection could take the form of more comprehensive government support for such households and stronger tobacco control programmes. A reliance on tobacco price policy alone to deter smokers is likely to have mixed outcomes—for example, increased hardship among some of these households. The challenge for tobacco control is to move from a sole focus on “doing good” towards incorporating the principle of “doing no harm”.

  • control policy
  • social policy
  • child poverty
  • household tobacco spending
  • HES, Household Economic Survey
  • NZPMP, New Zealand Poverty Measurement Project

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