ASH’s history

The launching of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) New Zealand marked the beginning of an unprecedented era of activism in the field of tobacco control.  In the first eighty years of the 20th century, the issue of tobacco control had featured in a sporadic fashion on New Zealand’s public health and political agendas.

Since the foundation of the organisation in 1982 by concerned health professionals led by Professor Robert Beaglehole, ASH has campaigned against tobacco and the harm it causes.

When ASH began a third of all adult New Zealanders smoked, there were almost no restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotional activity and there was no anti-tobacco group in existence. Many changes including restrictions on marketing, sponsorship and consumption in shared spaces, as well as our attitudes towards tobacco as a nation have since changed.

At the time of its foundation ASH was supported by a single NGO funder that supported a single staff member, today there is a team of eight working towards our shared vision of an Aotearoa that is free from harm caused by tobacco.

Some key milestones in the ASH’s history are:

ASH appoints its first full-time staff member, Deirdre Kent.

ASH runs a campaign to ensure that there would be no tobacco sponsorship of the 1990 Commonwealth Games.  ASH continued to campaign against tobacco sponsorship of the Auckland Surf Life-Saving Rescue Helicopter.

More staff join ASH and Deirdre Kent was appointed as the first director.  Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Dame Catherine Tizard and Sir Hamish Hay join Sir Edmund Hillary as patrons of ASH.

ASH seeks an increase in the tax on cigarettes.  In the budget the Government announced it was raising the tax on cigarettes by 70 cents a packet.

ASH director, Deirdre Kent and ASH chair, Dr Tony Baird visit a tobacco company head office and present a copy of an anti-tobacco publication.  ASH makes a submission on the Smokefree Environments Bill. Smokefree Environments Act is passed.  Deirdre Kent was awarded a New Zealand Commemoration Medal in recognition of services to New Zealand.

Jane Weir appointed as ASH director. ASH sought to raise the legal purchase age for cigarettes from 16 to 18.  ASH successfully lobbied for smokefree trans-Tasman flights.

ASH undertakes private prosecution of a retailer for selling single cigarettes and for selling cigarettes to a minor.  Judge finds the retailer guilty on all three charges and imposes $100 fine. The ruling declares the sale of single cigarettes illegal.

Trish Fraser appointed as ASH director.  ASH and the Smokefree Coalition made submissions to the Social Services Select Committee on the Smokefree Environments Amendment Bill.

The survey of smoking amongst New Zealand fourth formers (Year 10) was reintroduced. This was first undertaken in 1992.  ASH advocated for smokefree outdoor sports stadiums.

ASH protested against tobacco sponsored yachts visiting New Zealand as part of the Whitbread round the world race.

ASH commissioned legal opinion on payments made to retailers for retail displays of cigarettes. ASH supported representative action against tobacco companies by multiple claimants.

ASH supported the Smokefree Environments (enhanced protection) amendment bill and a Supplementary Order Paper designed to ban smoking in bars.  ASH welcomed the introduction of health warnings on cigarette packets in Māori and English, but criticised the lack of the Quitline number.

ASH began to advocate for a ban on ‘light’ and ‘mild’ as descriptors on cigarette packets. ASH urges for a complete ban on cigarette vending machines and for the inclusion in the Smokefree Environments (enhanced protection) amendment bill of clubs to be smokefree alongside other licensed premises and provisions to protect volunteers.

ASH supported and provided a spokesperson for Janice Pou, a woman dying of lung cancer who brought the first case filed in the High Court using civil legal aid to sue the tobacco industry in New Zealand for the first time.

ASH supported a strengthening of the Smokefree Environments Act Amendment Bill. An ASH media campaign included billboards and print media to persuade the public of the justification for banning smoking in workplaces and hospitality venues.  The Smokefree Environments Amendment Act 2003 was passed by parliament.

Becky Freeman is appointed as ASH director.  ASH urges the Government not to exempt pubs and clubs from a law ending smoking in licensed premises.  The Smokefree Environments Amendments Act is implemented.  All indoor areas including bars and restaurants go smokefree.

ASH calls for graphic picture warnings to be introduced on cigarettes.

ASH and Cancer Society launch campaign to ban retail displays of tobacco.  Government announces graphic picture warnings to be introduced to tobacco packaging.

Ben Youdan is appointed as ASH Director.  ASH and the Cancer Society present 20,000 signatures supporting a ban on retail displays to the Associate Health Minister.

Graphic warnings introduced on cigarettes.  Health select committee recommends a ban of retail tobacco displays.  Adult smoking prevalence drops to all time low at under 20 per cent.

ASH make repeated calls for a tobacco licence.  Government confirms it will not introduce legislation to ban retail tobacco displays.  Māori Affairs select committee announces an inquiry will be held in to the tobacco industry and releases the terms of reference.

Maori Affairs select committee receives 260 submissions and 1715 form letters. Tobacco tax increased for the first time in a decade and rate between roll-your-own and factory-made equalised. Nearly 100 oral submissions heard by as the committee travels to Wellington, Christchurch, Rotorua, and Auckland, including from international anti-smoking campaigner Jeffrey Wigand who visits New Zealand. A Bill to ban tobacco displays is picked from ballot of private member’s bills. The Government announces the Smokefree Environments Act to be amended to ban retail tobacco displays.  The Maori Affairs committee releases their report, making 42 recommendations.

The Government agrees to the aspirational goal of making New Zealand ‘essentially smokefree’ by 2025.  Legislation to remove tobacco displays in shops passes with overwhelming majority. Tobacco tax increases by 10 per cent.

Tobacco tax increases by a further 10 percent. Act removing tobacco displays comes in to force. The Government announces that tobacco tax will rise 40 per cent over the next four years.  Health and medical groups urge the Finance and Expenditure select committee to increase tobacco taxes further than scheduled tax increase of 40 per cent in 2013 followed by three successive 10 per cent increases.