Legislation Not Enough To Achieve Smokefree 2025

Media release

28 July 2022

The Government should be congratulated on its commitment to Smokefree 2025. However, it’s three legislative measures to achieve 95% of New Zealanders being smokefree won’t be enough to reach the goal in three years’ time, says ASH Action for Smokefree 2025.

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Bill has just passed its first reading in Parliament and will be sent to the Health Select Committee for consideration.

ASH chair Professor Robert Beaglehole says Smokefree 2025 is in sight, as long as the Government commits to stronger measures to support the 380,000 New Zealanders who still smoke daily, most of whom want to quit.

“To reach the Smokefree 2025 goal fairly, we need to reduce smoking rates by up to three-quarters for the poorest New Zealanders – more than half of whom will likely still die as a result of smoking. Overall, we need to help about 50,000 adults successfully quit smoking tobacco each year.

The Bill is part of the Government’s wider plan for a Smokefree 2025. “It is great to see proposed laws that set out an endgame for smoked tobacco. However, the clock is ticking and ASH urges the Government to urgently deliver the non-legislative measures in their Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan. The measures that empower communities, increase quitting and encourage smokers to switch to less harmful, and cheaper, alternatives will significantly accelerate progress to 2025.

“The proposal to create a ‘smokefree generation’ by banning the purchase of tobacco to people born after January 2009 will not come into effect until 2027 and will take until 2030 before sales to those under 21 are banned and New Zealand comes into line with countries like the United States.

“The Health Select Committee will carefully scrutinise the relevance and impact of this proposed measure. Banning the sale of tobacco to a ‘smokefree generation’ is trying to fix something that’s already a success story because only 1% of young teenagers smoke daily. In fact there are only around 3000 underage smokers in New Zealand, and this number continues to drop.

“The Bill also seeks to reduce the availability of smoked tobacco products, based on an assumption that dependent smokers will respond rationally and there will be a fall in demand for cigarettes. However, lessons from illicit drugs, alcohol and problem gambling must be heeded to ensure a rapid reduction in supply doesn’t worsen inequalities and punish dependent smokers, especially those in deprived communities.”

The Bill proposes to remove nicotine from cigarettes. “In doing so, the Government must minimise harm for smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit, and ensure they are not penalised for their addiction. This includes access to less harmful alternatives such as vaping, and ensuring there is still some access to regular cigarettes for people who simply cannot quit without turning to illicit supply.

“It is encouraging that the Bill puts powers to reduce nicotine in cigarettes and reduce retail supply of cigarette into regulations rather than primary legislation. This regulatory approach allows policymakers to regularly review the impact of proposed measures, and adapt and respond to any adverse consequences of this legislation on health equity and overall wellbeing.

“The last 30 years of tobacco policy has successfully reduced smoking overall, particularly for the least deprived members of society, but health survey data has shown increasing inequity in smoked tobacco use”.

“Aotearoa New Zealand can reach the Smokefree 2025 goal quickly and fairly by building on recent successes which have dramatically increased the shift to much less harmful e-cigarettes by adult smokers and continued to see record declines in young smokers,” Prof Beaglehole says.

ASH believes three further actions are required to reach Smokefree 2025:

1. Ongoing and sustained campaigns to increase successful quitting using all available means, including vaping

2. Empowering community-led initiatives to support and encourage people struggling to quit.

3. Tracking smoking trends to ensure reversal of the unfairness of past tobacco control measures.

“If the Government accelerates and adequately resources the simpler and fairer policies, all groups will get close to the Smokefree goal by the end of 2025 – and the other more complex policies may not even be needed,” Prof Beaglehole says.

By the numbers:

  • 380,000 New Zealanders still smoke cigarettes.
  • 99% of smokers are over 18, and 90% are 25 or older. 
  • Since 2015, the rate of decline in smoking prevalence for people aged 15-14 has been almost three times the rate of decline for people aged 25 and older. 
  • Cigarette smoking causes 5,000 deaths a year – that’s 14 preventable deaths every day.
  • Around one in 10 adults smoke cigarettes daily, but this rises to one in four among the lowest income New Zealanders.
  • The ASH Year 10 Survey has found daily teenage smoking has fallen from 15% in 1999 to 1.3% in 2021.

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