Last Generation Of Kiwi Smokers Need More Support Than Ever To Quit On World Smokefree Day

Press Release

30 May 2023


People who smoke are getting older; over the past decade, the age of Kiwis who smoke has risen from a median of 25 to 35. ASH says with policy to remove nicotine from cigarettes, and Smokefree 2025 only 2 years away, more than ever we need to support the remaining smokers who are at most risk from smoking related death and disease.

“While we have been incredibly successful preventing youth smoking, with only 6% of under 25s now smoking daily compared to 19% a decade ago, it’s been older smokers who have had the slowest quit rates says ASH Director Ben Youdan ahead of World Smokefree Day tomorrow (marked as the World Health Organization's “No Tobacco Day” overseas.)

“More than two thirds of smokers are now over 35 and likely longer term dependent smokers. This is the generation facing smoking related illness in the next 10-15 years. What’s particularly concerning is that it’s deprived and disadvantaged populations suffering most. Many of these adults are dying ‘out of sight’, and this needs to change” says Mr Youdan.

The focus of World Smokefree Day is “We’re backing you”, and thousands of Kiwis will have been trying to quit this past month. Anytime is a great time to quit smoking, and it’s even better to do so now when you can be part of nationwide movement.

The 300,000 Kiwis who still smoke need help to break their deadly habit as soon as possible. Smokers need to plan a path to quit because in less than 2 years there will be no nicotine in cigarettes anymore. This is going to be especially hard on middle aged and older smokers who have been dependent for many years.

“We have an obligation to support these people, preparing them to manage their nicotine dependence once cigarettes no longer do that. It can be daunting to quit especially if you have already tried many times and ways. Whilst vaping’s been proven to help many tens of thousands quit, the impact has been less for older smokers who use alternatives less” says Mr Youdan.

The ASH Director last week attended a US tobacco harm reduction summit in Washington DC alongside leading public health and addictions researchers and policy experts from around the world. Evidence presented showed that whilst vaping has had a profound impact on reducing smoking, there is increasing certainty that it is substantially less harmful.

Mr Youdan also met with White House officials to share New Zealand’s experience with tobacco policy, including how to achieve the balance between helping adults to quit, and stopping young people from vaping.

ASH says we need strong public campaigns directed at adult smokers, in particular the middle aged and people in struggling communities. We proudly support quit initiatives likes those of Hāpai te Hauora this month.

“While there have been major successes for Māori, with quit rates doubling in the last 2 years, and almost quadrupling for wāhine Māori, smoking is still overrepresented, so these types of community campaigns are crucial to help break smoking dependency. We must maintain momentum and every month should be a celebration of quitting together, not just once a year,” Mr Youdan says, “we all need to encourage, educate and empower people to quit and highlight the health and wealth gains, which will ultimately save thousands of Kiwi lives.“

ASH talking points for smoking in NZ on World Smokefree Day, 31 May, 2023 


· New Zealand is very close to getting smoking rates under 5% by 2025, and we have already achieved this for underage smoking, and for Kiwis living in the least deprived 60% of the population.

· New Zealand has 150,000 fewer smokers than 2 years ago mostly because 10s of thousands have successfully quit smoking. Many due to the help of vaping.

· The quit rate for Pacific Peoples has also leapt in the last year, with more people than ever quitting smoking.


· 330 thousand people smoke in New Zealand. Every year around 5000 die as a result of toxic tobacco smoke

· Smoking accounts for around 90,000 years of life lost per annum New Zealand, and the equivalent around 120,000 years lived in poor health.

· Smoking related health conditions cost the health system more than $2bn per annum. This does not take into account the cost of dying early, not being able to work, or the economic impact on family.

· 2 out of 3 smokers will die from smoking tobacco

· Middle aged smokers now have the highest smoking rates, but have some of the lowest quit rates.

· The quit rate of the poorest New Zealanders is half that of those in the wealthiest populations. (See below).

  Daily Smoking  Quit rate 
Quintile 1  4.8  n/a 
Quintile 2  4.5  35.1 
Quintile 3  5.2  14.3 
Quintile 4  8.2  23.3 
Quintile 5  17.4  17.2 
  Daily Smoking  Quit rate 
18-24  8.2  40.5 
25-34  9.6  24.8 
35-44  8.3  21.9 
45-54  9.9  14.7 
55-64  9.9  5.6 
65-74  5.9  10.1

· 2 out of 3 smokers live in the poorest households, compared to 1 in 2 a decade ago. Whilst New Zealand has been a leader in smokefree policy, smoking is increasingly a marker of disparity as the greatest gains form policy have been in the younger and less deprived populations.

· As of April 2025, when nicotine permitted in cigarettes will be reduced, the only way to buy nicotinised cigarettes will be illicit. Essentially the whole nicotine cigarette market will be a black market.

· Smoking is very bad for you however you get your tobacco, and whilst we strongly discourage all smoking, we especially discourage using illicit tobacco as people may be unable to tell if it is fake, or contains additional harmful elements such as mould, and is contributing to wider harms.

ASH’s tips for quitting

· Use a stop smoking service, or talk to Quitline or your GP about options available to help you quit

· Talk to a reputable vape shop about possible options to replace cigarettes.

· It is never too late to quit smoking at any age. There will always be health benefits, especially for heart health and improving lung function.

· Don’t give up giving up, it is the best thing you can do for your health

· Enlist support from whānau and friends – or even make it a challenge together, evidence shows healthy competition can help.

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