By Trevor Ammundsen.
Rising Crime – How do we Attack This?
Saturday’s Herald (3 June) spelt it out for all to see. “Kiwis feel less safe, want more police, harsher penalties: Poll” it proclaimed. When reading the article underneath the headline you will see that 67% of respondents were more concerned about being a victim of crime than they were five years ago. This is obviously a concern for most of us.
The majority of criminal acts are product based. For organised crime, these products are primarily drugs, imported or grown and sold to those who are addicted to them. This can in turn lead to theft of personal items which the thief aims to sell to pay for the drugs made available by organised crime. And then of course there can be theft of items for personal use; stealing a couple of bottles of whiskey and so on. The base of the pyramid is however organised crime with the extensive damage they do to our society.
Organised crime is like any business in that it seeks to grow. Size provides strength. The opportunities to grow through drug importation and horticulture are there but a far greater opportunity was given to those who are the mainstay of organised crime in 2010. This was by the Government of the day who set in place a target for the nation to be smoke free by 2025 and their main weapon to achieve this was by raising the price of cigarettes to punitive levels. Initially, this was a 25% increase in tax to be followed by annual increases of 10%. That leads us to today where some cigarettes cost over $50 per packet of 25 with the Government pocketing $35 or more of that price. And in an act of virtual criminality, the Government did not use this money significantly to help break the addictions of those they were profiting from.
This move was an obvious windfall for organised crime. They were given a market of drug addicts created by Government policies and the existing suppliers were being priced out of the market by those same Government policies. All that was needed was a regular supply of cigarettes to sell at an attractive rate and additional staff to look after this new business unit. The staff were found in the teenage population, a group of people who by law could not be punished by a jail sentence, and of course the regular supply was obtained by robbery of stores that sold cigarettes.
As the years have rolled on, organised crime’s new business unit has grown. Figures show that thefts involving cigarettes increased by over 1200% between 2015 and 2017. I do not have any more recent figures but suspect there would have been a drop off during Covid lockdowns with a resurgence of growth in the last year or so. It is easy to see how this growth is fuelled with every annual price rise making more addicted customers available to organised crime. With the current increases in the cost of living and looming recession, I predict that even more otherwise honest people will turn to cigarettes that are obviously stolen.
The solution to this situation is so simple I am surprised a politician has not thought of it; remove the excise on tobacco and cigarette products! This will reduce the price of a packet of cigarettes to the $8 to $15 level and remove a market for organised crime overnight as our honest addicts revert to being honest.
This editorial will obviously spark some questions so I will attempt to quickly address some of these. Firstly, the target of eliminating cigarette usage by 2025 cannot be met because nothing has been done about curing nicotine addicts. If any such target is to be met, then it should be based upon ring fencing the addict community, possibly by registration, and then initiating cure programmes. The sale of nicotine to any non-registered person would be illegal. In effect, the addict community becomes a bubble which gradually gets squeezed out of our society.
A second point I wish to make is that I fully understand that this would not eliminate all youth crime. If however our Government toughens up of crime in terms of jail terms, reintroduction of borstals and the strengthening of the Police Force then the policy mix should make our people inherently safer.
For the record, I do not smoke anything, giving up cigarettes in May 1989; but I still fully understand the struggles involved in quitting unassisted.