Call for smoking in private cars to be banned!

February 11th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Tax increases on cigarettes are necessary, but more could be done to make South Cantabrians consider kicking the smoking habit, according to Community and Public Health. …

“I’d love to see the government push for smokefree cars. So we’ve ticked off smokefree playgrounds and parks. Our Smokefree South Canterbury Committee have done two years of research around that [smokefree cars],” she said.

Community Public and Health were “certainly pushing” for the government to consider legislation around smokefree cars.

Why not just arrest anyone who is a smoker and send them to jail?

Cars are private property of the owner. Parks and playgrounds are owned by local government. If you think it is the role of the state to ban smoking in cars, then why not ban smoking in private homes also? I can just imagine the squads of officials raiding people sitting at home having a cigarette, and hauling them off to jail.


Two years of plain packaging in Australia

December 1st, 2014 at 1:39 pm by David Farrar

Plain packaging for tobacca products was introduced in Australia two years ago.

An analysis of Australia’s plain packaging was conducted by Professor Sinclair Davidson and Dr Ashton De Silva from the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT.  They conclude:

“Despite our econometric efforts, the data refused to yield any indication this policy has been successful; there is no empirical evidence to support the notion that the plain packaging policy has resulted in lower household expenditure on tobacco than there otherwise would have been. There is some faint evidence to suggest, ceteris paribus, household expenditure on tobacco increased.”

They also note:

Further clouding some commentators’ appreciation of the situation, the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey results (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014) indicated that overall tobacco consumption was down on 2010 data – but that cannot establish any efficacy of the plain packaging policy per se in addition to the long-term downward trend in tobacco consumption.

This is why I support a regional trial of plain packaging in NZ (if it is found to be legal by the WTO). That way we could get hard data on whether plain packaging has a significant impact on smoking rates, beyond the already existing downwards trend.

The researchers note:

At best, we can determine the plain packaging policy introduced in December 2012 has not reduced household expenditure of tobacco once we control for price effects, or the long-term decline of tobacco expenditure, or even the latent attributes of the data.

To the contrary, we are able to find a suggestion that household expenditure of tobacco has, ceteris paribus, increased. In our forecasting exercise the actual data come close to breaking through the 80 per cent confidence interval. While we do not want to over-emphasise these results, we do conclude that any evidence to suggest that the plain packaging policy has reduced household expenditure on tobacco is simply lacking.

Also even Otago University seems very doubtful on whether plain packaging will reduce smoking rates. In a blog post here, four researchers put plain packaging in a category of “Uncertain but possible” impact for achieving the NZ smokefree goal.

I’m not against plain packaging if there is proof it will have a significant impact on smoking rates. But as it is basically a quite draconian precedent in terms of state confiscation of intellectual property, the evidence needs to be very strong that it will be effective. So far there is no such evidence.

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What next for tobacco control?

November 28th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today estimates that, even with steep tobacco tax rises and the introduction of plain packaging, tens of thousands of Kiwis will still be smoking by 2025.

One of the study authors, Otago University professor Tony Blakely, said the Government needed to start thinking about more “radical solutions” if it was committed to the goal.

Those included requiring smokers to have a tobacco licence, forcing tobacco firms to phase out nicotine, restricting tobacco sales to pharmacies, or subsidising less harmful alternatives such as e-cigarettes.

Blakely said it was too early to endorse any of those options, but a business-as-usual approach would not work. “We are going to need one of these extra radical things that hasn’t been tried anywhere else,” he said.

“Even a packet of cigarettes costing $40 will not be enough.”

The idea of licensing smokers sounds totalitarian.

The idea of restricting sales to pharmacies, recognising it is a drug, is worth debating.

Also worth considering is what role e-cigarettes can play, as they are exponentially less harmful.


Public health specialists call for WHO to see e-cigarettes as a solution

May 30th, 2014 at 11:25 am by David Farrar

Nicotine Policy reports:

Over 50 leading scientists from 15 countries have written to Margaret Chan Director-General of the World Health Organization to ask WHO reconsider its intention to classify e-cigarettes the same as regular cigarettes, warning that they risk missing an opportunity to drastically reduce smoking and the illness and death associated with it.

Ahead of the WHO sponsored Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) meeting in Moscow this October, the scientists have reacted to aleaked document from a FCTC preparatory meeting indicating that the WHO considers e-cigarettes a “threat” to public health and intends to sideline their use as an accessible alternative to regular tobacco and cigarettes. Snus is already included in the FCTC.

In their letter to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, the 53 signatories argue that tobacco harm reduction products could play a significant role in meeting the 2025 UN objectives to reduce non-communicable diseases. E-cigarettes and other safer nicotine products are part of the solution, not part of the problem, they say.

This is an incredibly significant letter. The signatories to the letter (includes two NZers) are all highly respected specialists in public health and anti-smoking policy.

Anti-smoking activists tend to fall into two categories. Some, like the letter signatories, are focused entirely on reducing harm from smoking. They want (as I do) to have fewer people smoking, and getting lung cancer and other diseases from smoking.

The other category of activists focus on trying to damage the companies that sell the products they don’t like – whether it be tobacco, fast food, soft drinks, alcohol or whatever. They like, for example, plain packaging, because it may hurt companies they don’t like – even if there is no evidence it reduces smoking rates.

So this group of specialists is telling the WHO that it would be a very bad mistake to treat e-cigarettes the same as tobacco. They are an alternative product that causes far less harm and can get people off tobacco.

Ironically in New Zealand, e-cigarettes are currently banned.

As I said, the letter from the public health specialists is very significant. The two NZ signatories are Dr Murray Laugeson and Associate Professor Chris Bullen (Director, National Institute for Health Innovation, University of Auckland). Dr Laugeson is spent 18 years as the principal medical officer for the Ministry of Health and his CV states he is NZ’s most experienced researcher on smoking policy and cigarettes.

Perhaps the Government would do better to look at allowing e-cigarettes, as promoted by the signatories, rather than pursing measures that have not been found to be effective?


Youth smoking way down

March 14th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The latest data from the ASH survey of Year 10 students is encouraging.

  • Only 3.2% of Year 10 students smoke daily, down from 15.6% in 1999
  • Only 8.5% of Maori Year 10 students smoke daily, down from 30.3% in 1999
  • Only 6.8% of Year 10 students smoke regularly, down from 28.6% in 1999
  • Only 14.7% of Maori Year 10 students smoke regularly, down from 42.8% in 1999

Most Year 10 students are 15, so ideally the smoking rates should be 0%. There’s still a fair way to go, but the trend is encouraging. It’s one thing for adults to decide to smoke (fine so long aas they pay the costs of their healthcare, not me) but a very bad thing for teenagers to start smoking.

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The cost of smoking

January 17th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Would you rather smoke your way to an early grave, or knock $350,000 off your mortgage?

One of the most regularly trotted-out reasons for quitting smoking is that it’s expensive. Well, duh.

But cigarettes are about to get a whole lot dearer, and many nicotine junkies may not fully grasp what an enormous sum of money is going up in smoke. …

This month, the excise tax went up another 10 per cent, and that’s not the end of it.

There are another two 10 per cent hikes planned, which means that in 2016, a pack of 20 cigarettes will cost at least $20.

So how much is the lifetime cost of smoking?

We’ll use an interest rate of 5 per cent for our scenario, which is a reasonable after tax-return for a diversified portfolio of shares.

For simplicity we’ll run the numbers for a diehard, pack-a-day smoker. $20 a day is $140 a week, $600 a month and $7200 a year.

Now we introduce the magic of compounding interest. It starts off slowly. In the first year, compounding monthly, you would have earned an extra $200 on top of the up-front cash savings.

By the 10th year, you’d be earning a staggering $4400 worth of extra income each and every year simply by giving ciggies the flick.

After 20 years, you’d have a tidy quarter of a million bucks saved, almost half of which would be investment returns. …

With our adjusted interest rate, you’d save a whopping $350,000 on your mortgage by channelling all your cigarette money into paying it off.

A huge saving. Another way of looking at it, is that you could use that $350,000 to do $8,500 overseas holidays twice a year.

Take the example of Southland woman, Liz, who’s beating the tax hikes by growing her own.

Friends and family members have also successfully grown their own baccy – which is reportedly not too bad, especially when mixed with a pouch of commercial stuff.

This is an issue, in that if you price a product too high, then the hardcore will turn to the black market or grow their own.

Most smokers are from lower income families. Stopping smoking is a great way to increase your disposable income. Easier said than done, but worth doing.


The stop smoking vouchers

January 4th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Predictably, there is outrage over a scheme in South Auckland that offers women smokers a voucher for up to $300 if they stop smoking while pregnant, to avoid the harm that tobacco can do to an unborn baby. But all the talk about the mother’s personal responsibility and the like disregards a couple of salient facts.

The most important of these is the price an unborn child might pay for a mother’s failure to act in its interests. Society also gains when the benefit of preventing smoking-related birth complications far outweighs the cost of the vouchers, which can be spent only on groceries, baby products, cinema tickets or petrol.

I don’t have a problem with the scheme if the benefits outweigh the costs, which looks likely. But what I do have an issue with, is that it is restricted to Maori and Pacific mothers only, rather than all pregnant mothers who smoke.


Smoking bans

July 14th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

A reader e-mails in:

I was wondering if you could ask your legally qualified readers if they could shed some light on a recent series of bizarre decisions by the High Court. That court twice ruled that smoking bans for criminals in prison were illegal. The judge in the latest case (5 days ago) also said that the smoking ban prisoners was “inhumane”.

Meanwhile in a decision released yesterday the High Court ruled that a smoking ban for mental patients in hospital is legal.

Ok, so the High Court is saying that if you commit a crime and are sent to prison then it is inhumane to stop you smoking. But if you suffer a mental illness through no fault of your own and are hospitalized then it is perfectly legal for the hospital to stop you smoking.

Can somebody please explain to me how these decisions are even remotely consistent, let alone fair?

A fair point!


Smoking and health insurance

June 4th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

One of the reasons we have an excise tax on tobacco is because as taxpayers we have to fund the healthcare of those who smoke, and the rationale is they should pay for the costs of their choice – not us. And as it happens the level of tobacco excise tax is well above the level needed to cover the estimated costs associated with smoking.

This got me wondering about how the costs are calculated in countries where people generally pay for their own healthcare, such as the US.

So my question is, does anyone know what the difference is in premiums in the US for health insurance for a smoker and non-smoker?

Also does anyone know what the difference is in NZ for life insurance premiums between a smoker and non-smoker of the same age?

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Would this work?

June 1st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar



Stuff reports:

If the gory photos on cigarette packs and the threat of a hideous death weren’t enough, now an academic has come up with a grim countdown-to-death for smokers.

Smokers will literally be able to see the minutes of their life expectancy drop away with each smoke, if Massey University College of Health head Professor Paul McDonald’s idea gains traction.

He is proposing an idea in which each cigarette would be marked with six rings and a message saying each ring smoked past would take a minute off life expectancy.

If adopted, New Zealand would be the first in the world to print warnings directly on to cigarettes.

The idea is still in its infancy but a preliminary survey of 10 smokers by Prof McDonald showed it would have a “profound” effect.

I’d be wary of any study with just 10 people in it.

As with plain packaging, I’d trial ideas like this in a geographic region so one can establish whether smoking rates there change more than the rest of the country.

The Dominion Post asked four smokers if Professor Paul McDonald’s idea would encourage them to quit.

- Luke Eling, 23, a chef from Brooklyn: It wouldn’t help.

It’s killing you but you are going to die anyway, so bugger it.

I would see if I can smoke it faster than six minutes.

- Robbie King, 33, a body piercer from central Wellington: If it was actually true and you could gauge it like that, it may help. Yes, smoking can be bad for you but my grandfather lived till 97, smoking five times as much as me.

- Mark Speedy, 35, a milkman from Churton Park: It wouldn’t stop me. What if you have a heart attack? Is it a minute off that? Obviously not.

- Sue Barratt, 54, works in insurance, from Karori:

It probably wouldn’t. I still enjoy smoking – that’s the problem.

I do feel guilty about smoking, more than I used to.

I suspect most smokers already know it kills you.

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Tobacco tax

May 31st, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The increase in tobacco tax in January may have pushed the smoking rate below 16 per cent, a survey suggests.

Released today to coincide with World Smokefree Day, the survey of more than 200 smokers found a 4.5 per cent reduction in smoking prevalence following the 11 per cent tax increase, said Dr Murray Laugesen.

“That equates to a 0.75 percentage point reduction in the [national adult] smoking prevalence which is currently 16.5 per cent. The tax rise could have brought it below 16 per cent.”

This doesn’t surprise me. Price will of course affect demand.

But a sample of 200 is very small. The margin of error is around 7%, so a 4.5% reduction is not statistically significant.


Fewer people smoking

December 12th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Martin Johnston at NZ Herald reports:

About 70,000 fewer adults smoke tobacco daily now than three years ago, the latest official survey has found. …

However, a preview snippet of the results, already published on the ministry’s website, says the provisional data indicates that about 17 per cent of people aged 15 or older are daily smokers. That equates to about 600,000 people.

The prevalence was more than one-tenth lower than in 2009, when the ministry found that 19 per cent of adults smoked daily.

Tobacco control and public health advocates have hailed the reduction as a vindication of the Government’s efforts to cut smoking.

It is good news. Almost everyone who smokes, would like to give up – but they are addicted.

The focus should continue to be on policies that actually work at reducing smoking.

Smoking rates

Prevalence of daily tobacco smoking among people aged 15 or older:

23 per cent 2002/03
19 per cent 2006/07
17 per cent 2011/12

The breakdown by gender and ethnicity is interesting. In 2008, the prevalance rates were:

  • European women 21%
  • Maori women 49%
  • Asian women 5%

Also ironically, those who can least afford to smoke, are more likely to smoke. Those in the bottom quintile for deprivation were 2.7 times more likely to smoke than the top quintile.

The average number of cigarettes smoked appears to be 5,000 a year for a smoker, which is 200 packs of 25 a year. At $15 a pack, that is $3,000 a year – to help kill yourself.


A policy well implemented

November 30th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Simon Collins at NZ Herald reports:

The ban made all tobacco products and lighters “contraband”, imposing disciplinary consequences if prisoners or guards were found with them.

Dr Lukkien said the ban was effective. Confiscations plunged from 569 lighters and 237 tobacco items in the first month of the ban to two lighters and 12 tobacco items in June this year.

Nurses in all prisons offered nicotine-replacement patches and lozenges to all smokers for up to 12 weeks.

Dr Lukkien said some prisons held barbecues and concerts to involve prisoners in “celebrating” going smokefree, rather than seeing it as a hardship.

A second evaluation, completed this year by Wellington-based Litmus Ltd and Kaipuke Consultants, found that half of the prisoners who had been smokers said they either would not or might not start smoking again after leaving jail.

Excellent. They’ll save money and be healthier.

“Improvements in prisoners’ self-esteem and confidence were also evident. Health staff reported prisoners telling them that having given up a nicotine addiction means that they feel they can give up other addictive behaviour also.”

And drug and alcohol addiction is a major issue with prisoners.

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Winston seems to think smoking isn’t bad for you

July 19th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Winston Peters has criticised the anti-smoking lobby and Maori leaders, saying ordinary Maori are being saddled with a massive tax on smoking most of them don’t want.

Translation: Winston’s addiction is costing him money. I’ve got a solution for poor old Winnie though. The Government could add Quitline to the list of Super Gold Card services!

Mr Peters also questioned why the Japanese lived so long and have low rates of heart disease and stroke when they have the world’s highest smoking rate and said obesity was the main health concern for Maori, not smoking.

Oh dear, Winston must be lining up to be Health Minister in a Labour-led Government.

Incidentally Winston is wrong. The smoking rate in Japan is 24%. A Gallup poll found 21 countries with a smoking rate of over 30%.

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More pluses from smoking ban in prison

July 3rd, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Isaac Davidson at NZ Herald reports:

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says a smoking ban in prisons has drastically reduced fire-related incidents and dangerous activities, while improving air quality for inmates.

Mrs Tolley said safety in prisons had improved since lighters and matches had been taken from inmates a year ago.

Officials said fire-related incidents fell from 76 in 2010/11 to 21 in 2011/12.

The smoking ban was introduced in July last year after a 12-month campaign to encourage inmates to quit.

“It has also removed the opportunity for prisoners to use lighters to melt plastic into dangerous weapons,” Mrs Tolley said.

She said a study of Auckland Prison found air quality had improved significantly and fewer respiratory illnesses had been reported.

“Despite scaremongering before its introduction, the smoking ban has been a real success. Staff and prisoners will continue to be offered nicotine replacement therapy, as part of a wider plan to treat offenders with addictions.”

I recall the predictions of riots!


Smoking Targets

April 16th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Labour’s Iain Lees-Galloway has said:

The Government is deliberately ignoring health data that doesn’t tell the story it wants the public to hear, Labour’s Associate Health spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway says.

“Statistics collected by the Ministry of Health reveal that every district health board (DHB) except one is failing to get close to acceptable rates for early smoking cessation intervention.

“The Government wants us to believe it has made smoking cessation a priority. These figures highlight the reality – it hasn’t, “Iain Lees-Galloway.

“The Ministry of Health expects 90 per cent of smokers who see a GP to be provided with advice and help to quit, yet only one DHB is reaching that target.

“No other DHB is even close. In fact, on average they are underperforming by 57%.

“Tony Ryall, of course, is allergic to bad news, so these figures never get reported.

 “Interestingly he talks up statistics around smokers who end up in hospital* and the advice they get there.

“But only reporting smoking cessation activities in hospitals is ludicrous. Far more people see their GP than go to hospital.

This is an interesting issue. Lees-Galloway is taking about two seperate things – the proportion of smokers who see their GP who get advice and help to quit, and the proportion of smokers in a hospital who get advice and help to quit.

The hospital figure is the official national health target. It was 90% and has just gone up to 95%. The DHB average was 95% in the first quarter of 2011/12 and slipped back to 89% in the second quarter. Six DHBS made 95% and 12 made 90%, while eight did not.

Now hospitals are actually run by DHBs. DHBs control hospitals. A DHB has the ability to put in place policies around offering quit smoking services to patients. Also be aware that the average person spends hours or days in hospital, so it is easier to do something additional to the reason they are in hospital.

GPs are not employed by DHBs. They are private entities, that only get a portion of their income from the Government. The ability of a Government to get GPs to do something is very limited, and frankly it is silly of Lees-Galloway to think they can.

Now from what I can tell, the DHBs only started funding GPs to even code their patients as to whom are smokers and non-smokers. Sure it is recorded in notes in long-hand, but it is a big job to go through every file and mark them in the database as a smoker.

The new target for GPs only started this year, and they noted:

Unlike the other health targets, this measure started from scratch as provision of advice and help to smokers was not recorded previously nor even offered routinely.

So imagine what is involved to get every GP in NZ recording the status, and then also recording if they offered quit smoking assistance. I’ve worked in a medical centre. The average visit is around 15 minutes, and covering anything apart from the immediate problem slows things down a lot. Now this is not to say it is not a good idea – it is. But expecting 90% achievement in the first year is silly.

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A success story

March 2nd, 2012 at 12:53 pm by David Farrar

The data is from the annual ASH survey of Year 10 students, which has around 30,000 responses.  That’s a really good trend. 12 years ago 70% of Year 10 students had smoked, and now it is 30%. What do readers think is the reason? Peer pressure? Price? Law changes?

A huge difference by ethnicity. In 2011 they are:

  • Have smoked – European 23.5%, Maori 53.8%, Pacific 38.9%, Asian 11.7%
  • Regular smokers – European 5.6%, Maori 18.1%, Pacific 10.7%, Asian 2.6%
  • Daily smokers – European 2.4%, Maori 10.3%, Pacific 5.9%, Asian 1.2%

However Maori Year 10s have had the biggest decline over the period also.


Adam Smith Institute on plain packaging

February 27th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Christopher Snowdon from the Adam Smith Institute blogs on the push for plain packaging the the UK:

The coalition of state-funded anti-smoking groups have started revving up their trusty public relations machine for yet another legislative campaign. While their temperance counterparts concentrate on minimum pricing, the anti-tobacco lobby has its heart set on ‘plain packaging’.  …

It is one thing to force a manufacturer to label a product with a warning, but quite another to confiscate the packaging in its entirety to create public propaganda from private property. Rather than helping people make informed decisions, it seems that the overriding goal of plain packaging is to annoy the tobacco industry, inconvenience retailers and stigmatise consumers. Few of us will feel especially sympathetic towards the cigarette companies, but hard cases make bad law and the senseless trampling on property rights, along with the likelihood that the temperance lobby and diet police will emulate the anti-smoking trailblazers (as ever), has implications that go far beyond tobacco.

That is my concern. Already some in the temperance lobby are pushing for all beer and wine to have nothing on its label except required factual information. So if they get plain packaging for cigarettes, then the push will be for beer and wine also to follow suit, and then of course food that is disapproved of.

Secondly, there are sound consequentialist grounds to oppose the policy. There is no evidence whatsoever that the sight of a cigarette pack encourages nonsmokers to take up a notoriously unhealthy habit, and even ASH do not claim that it will have any effect on existing smokers. Numerous focus groups, including ASH’s own “citizen’s jury”, have expressed profound scepticism about the prospects of plain packaging lowering the smoking rate. 

There are a number of initiatives that could well reduce smoking rates, but I tend to agree that plain packaging is not one of them. I doubt it would stop a single person from smoking.


All this publicity for a study of 13 people!

February 22nd, 2012 at 4:25 pm by David Farrar

I blogged yesterday about a study that concluded fewer people would take up smoking socially if smoke-free rules extended to areas outside bars.  It was based on a massive 13 interviews.

I wondered how many media outlets reported this study, and how many used their judgement that there is nothing newsworthy in a study of 13 people that purports to reach conclusions that are applicable over the entire population.

Well the answer is depressing. This is a list of media outlets that gave near uncritical coverage to this study of 13 people.

  1. Radio 531pi (news)
  2. Radio Live Drive (Brent Impey)
  3. Radio Rhema (Andrew Urquhart)
  4. Newstalk ZB (Larry Williams) (which to be fair had a go at the small size)
  5. Radio Dunedin
  6. Radio Rhema (news)
  7. Radio Live (news)
  8. Stuff website
  9. Herald website
  10. Adelaide Advertiser
  11. Launceston Examiner
  12. ODT
  13. NZ Herald
  14. ODT (again)
  15. TVNZ7 6 pm News
  16. TVNZ7 News at 8

Not bad for a study of 13 people – more media mentions than actual participants.

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A scientific study – of 13 people!

February 21st, 2012 at 4:23 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

New Zealand researchers believe fewer people would take up smoking socially if smoke-free rules extended to areas outside bars.

The researchers from Otago and Massey universities carried out 13 in-depth interviews with people aged between 19 and 25 in Auckland and Dunedin early in 2011.

Their results have been published online in the journal Tobacco Control.

A study of 13 people? God help me.

The researchers noted that, as with all small scale qualitative research, their study had limitations. 

No kidding.

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Smoking bans outdoors?

January 19th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Health bosses want the Auckland Council to ban smoking in all public outdoor areas in the city in a bid to stop children picking up the habit.

The proposed ban would include the city centre, parks, playgrounds, sports grounds, stadiums, parts of beaches, council-controlled land such as around the Auckland Museum and art gallery, and events supported by the council, such as Pasifika.

Why not just go the whole hog and have summary executions of people caught smoking? That would be far more effective in encouraging children not to smoke.

One drawback of an execution policy is that Auckland could suffer significant population loss. So to ameliorate the effects, perhaps adopt the Roman decimation policy – just kill 1 in 10 smokers?


Crampton on smoking costs

November 7th, 2010 at 9:53 am by David Farrar

The Press publishes this very useful article from Eric Crampton:

You could be forgiven for thinking that the health system could save $1.9 billion if tobacco had never existed. That’s what the Ministry of Health says smoking costs the public health system.

But, you’d be wrong.

The ministry’s latest estimate of the cost of smoking has nothing to do with the costs that smokers impose on taxpayers or the costs that could be avoided if smoking were to disappear.

Rather, it’s a politically convenient number whose promotion has much to do with gaining voter support for anti-tobacco initiatives and nothing to do with real economic costs.

I was pretty surprised when this figure started being cited earlier this year. It was much higher than the previous estimate of $350 million dollars – a figure produced not by the Big Tobacco lobby but rather by Des O’Dea in a report commissioned by anti-tobacco crusaders Action on Smoking and Health.

So the costs have gone from $350, to $1.9b – how did they achieve this?

After sorting the population by age, gender, income, ethnicity and smoking status, they then compared the costs of providing health services to smokers as compared to nonsmokers for each group.

The excess costs of the smoking group were tallied up to produce the $1.9b figure.

So what’s the problem?

It’s easiest to think of smoking as bringing forward a whole lot of end-of-life costs.

Smokers die earlier than nonsmokers.

We know that.

And the costs to the health budget of somebody who is dying are rather higher than the costs of somebody who is healthy.

But everybody dies sometime and most of us will incur end-of-life costs that will be paid for by the public health system.

Suppose that a smoker will die at age 65 and a nonsmoker will die at 75. Comparing 65-year-old smokers to 65-year-old nonsmokers and calling the difference the cost of smoking then rather biases upwards the measured costs of smoking.

We ought to be comparing the health costs of a smoker dying at age 65 with the health costs of a nonsmoker dying at age 75.

Yes. This is what I assumed was done. But obviously it did not produce a big enough figure.

The figures assume that in the absence of smoking, smokers would never have imposed end-of-life costs on the health system. But for their smoking, all smokers in this scenario would have died of a sudden, and cheap, heart attack and would only have had average health costs up to that point. That’s clearly nonsense, but the $1.9b figure only makes sense if it’s true.

So the $1.9b is a useless figure. Sadly I doubt it will stop people citing it.

If smoking disappeared tomorrow, your taxes would have to go up to make up the difference. Thank the next smoker you meet for helping to keep your taxes down.

And be as sceptical of numbers coming from the Ministry of Health as you would be of numbers produced by the tobacco industry. Neither is a disinterested party.


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Editorials 30 June 2010

June 30th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald focuses on Fiji:

The second was the introduction of a grandly titled Media Industry Development Decree. It means, among other things, that the Fiji Times, the country’s oldest and largest newspaper, has three months to remove Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd as its owner or face closure.

If the first development borders on farce, the second should remove any lingering illusions about the regime’s view of democratic niceties. The decree effectively eliminates freedom of expression in Fiji.

Aside from the restriction on foreign ownership, a tribunal has been established to ensure nothing is printed or broadcast against the “national interest or public order”.

In essence, Fijians will no longer know what their rulers are up to. Special attention is being paid to the Fiji Times because, according to the Attorney-General, it has been “the purveyor of negativity, at least for the past three years”.

The move against the media is part of an ongoing removal of Fijians’ rights. This has included the abrogation of the constitution, the squashing of dissent and the dishonouring of pledges for a return to democracy.

There is sadly no evidence that there will be a return to democracy. I can’t see a scenario where the Commodore will give up power and let Fijians actually decide on their Government.

This step should also occasion a rethink by New Zealanders who spend their holidays in Fiji. Tim Pankhurst, of the New Zealand Media Freedom Committee has suggested a boycott.

He has a point. Tourists might like to say that Fijian businesses and jobs should not be penalised for the sins of the regime. But they are undermining their own country’s diplomatic efforts.

Fiji’s tourism-driven economy attracts 60 per cent of its patronage from New Zealand and Australia. No official boycott can be imposed, nor should it be.

But a rethink by would-be tourists would apply further pressure. And if, ultimately, it is up to the Fijian people to send Commodore Bainimarama back to the barracks, tourists temporarily moving away from Fiji for other Pacific destinations would hammer home a message about the pariah status of their rulers.

Rather than out all the onus on consumers, the media could play their part. Rather than just write editorials, APN and Fairfax could refuse to accept advertising for Fiji tourism. That would be a sign of solidarity with their colleagues in Fiji, and show real commitment rather than just words.

The Press lashes FIFA:

Football prides itself on being the “beautiful game”, but the current World Cup in South Africa has been marred by too many ugly refereeing decisions.

One of the most egregious occurred this week when England’s Frank Lampard was not awarded a goal against Germany despite the ball clearly crossing the goal line after hitting the crossbar.

This must serve as a wake-up call for Fifa boss Sepp Blatter and his top officials to get their heads out of the sand and harness the electronic technology successfully used by so many other sports.

It is a no brainer.

The Dom Post looks at smoking in prisons:

But surely an outright ban goes too far? How about halfway measures first, such as a prison smoking-room, or a ban on smoking in cells? If she is wedded to a total ban, what are known as “cessation assistance” programmes – already available to anyone, including the incarcerated, who want to quit – must be funded appropriately. …

As usual with any broadbrush proposal, the devil will be in the detail. But that detail should acknowledge union unease. The minister has already attended the funeral of one prison guard this year – a political show that bore an uncanny resemblance to former prime minister Helen Clark’s infamous appearance at the Folole Muliaga funeral in 2007. Ms Collins does not want the option of attending another.

What an incredibly stupid comparison, in terms of funerals. Jason Palmer was employed by the Government and died doing his job, and as a result of his job. I don’t know anyone who thinks a Minister should not attend the funeral of law & order professionals who get killed by criminals. In fact it is almost disrespectful not to go.

What that has in common with the circus generated around the Muliaga’s I don’t know.

The ODT also looks at smoking:

With this background, it may have surprised some readers to learn that the inmates of our prisons are permitted to smoke, including in their cells, unlike in Canada, some British prisons, and those in some Australian states, where the practice is banned.

The intention of the Minister of Corrections to ban smoking in our jails from July next year is certainly easily justified on health grounds alone, and the overseas precedent suggests the fears being raised here by vested interests are largely groundless. …

Objectors have raised two main issues: the right of prisoners to smoke in what is effectively their “own home”; and the potential for violent reaction from prisoners required to cease smoking.

The first claim is groundless.

Prisoners are, in effect, tenants.

The State, as landlord, can and does impose conditions of use.

Additionally, prisoners who do not smoke – and prison guards – are entitled to not be confined in conditions where their own health may be damaged by second-hand smoke.

The department has anticipated prisoner reaction by giving a year’s notice of the measure, and by its intention to offer a cessation programme, including nicotine replacements, for those who seek such help.

That approach is not unreasonable.

Meanwhile 65% of people in Labour’s poll say they back the ban, so I expect we will see them come out backing it shortly.

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Editorials 29 June 2010

June 29th, 2010 at 1:54 pm by David Farrar

The Press examines the smoking ban in prisons:

From the middle of next year New Zealand’s prisons are set to emulate Australia’s and become smokefree.

It is a long overdue move. It was an anomaly that prisoners could still smoke in their cells as the rest of New Zealand moved increasingly towards a no-smoking regime.

School grounds, hospitals, and other government departments have gone smokefree, as have bars, restaurants and businesses, and, in Christchurch, there is even a smokefree policy in parks.

For many prisoners – two-thirds of inmates – an enforced cold turkey regime will seem a hardship or even a civil rights breach. But those who have committed crimes against society should not expect the right to smoke, just as they cannot legally have alcohol and drugs.

What amuses me is the policy dilemma for Labour. They instinctively are in favour of anything that is anti-smoking but against anything that they see as punitive to prisoners.

So how does Labour solve this dilemma? They run a blog poll to decide their policy :-)

The Dom Post looks at the trans-Tasman relationship:

When Julia Gillard became prime minister of Australia, Prime Minister John Key was the first foreign leader to phone in his congratulations.

He needs to hope his fast dialling finger will deliver a better result than his predecessor, Helen Clark, achieved with her swift flight over for a cup of tea with Kevin Rudd when he got the job – in his time as prime minister Mr Rudd never quite made it to New Zealand for an official visit.

Mr Key, like Miss Clark before him, is smart enough to realise the onus is on Wellington to keep reminding Canberra what the “NZ” stands for in Anzac. The reality, however unpalatable it might be to some, is that New Zealand is simply not as important to Australia as Australia is to New Zealand.

Australia is New Zealand’s most important trading partner and its most important security relationship. …

Talk about whether New Zealand and Australia should take their relationship to the next level and look at issues such as a common border can wait until the Australian election is over.

Mr Key’s job is to ensure New Zealand’s interests are not damaged in the meantime.

Miss Clark and John Howard reportedly enjoyed a warm relationship despite their different political ideologies. The hope must be that the state-house son of a refugee and the daughter of a 10 immigrant from Wales can do the same.

The irony is that PM from opposite parties seem to have got on better than PMs from the same side of the spectrum.

The ODT looks at OSH:

It is one of our cultural stereotypes: the rugged, versatile, no-nonsense farmer – the sort of person for whom most regulations are made by townies for townies who have no real understanding of the demands and constraints of a working life in the country; and, further, how the red tape that such people unhesitatingly impose on the rural sector can seriously impact on proven working methods and productivity.

In no other sphere is this more pronounced, or more irritating to some, than on-farm safety: the rules and regulations promulgated by the Department of Labour, Occupational Safety and Health and ACC are frequently seen as at best a brake on freedom and individual responsibility and, at worst, the interfering actions of bureaucrats and the “politically correct”.

Sadly, the reality is that such organisations have reason to be concerned.

According to the latest figures released by ACC, farmers are killing themselves in work-related accidents at the rate of one every 28 days.

Last year, 13 farmers died in accidents on New Zealand farms.

There were 18,600 injuries on farms, with quad bikes, farm machinery and poor animal handling featuring as the most common causes.

Raw figures by themselves mean little. What would be more useful is the injury rate per employee.

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Anti-smoking proposals

February 5th, 2010 at 7:37 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Taxpayer-funded health officials are calling on the Government to increase tobacco tax and ban smoking in many outdoor public areas such as beaches.

The call from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service for a range of tough measures comes in its submission to the Maori affairs select committee’s forthcoming inquiry into the tobacco industry and the effects of tobacco use on Maori. …

The Auckland service wants the law banning indoor smoking at workplaces extended to playgrounds, outdoor eating areas, beaches, the area outside buildings, cars when a child aged less than 16 is present, public transport stops and pedestrian malls.

I think there is a case for restrictions in playgrounds and cars with children in them. I accept a role to protect kids. But decisions on pedestrian malls and building exteriors are best left to the owners of those places.

The recommendations:

* Ban smokers from outdoor public areas such as beaches.

I’m not sure why beaches should having smoking ban. There is no risk of passive smoking on beaches.

* Increase tobacco tax by 5 per cent plus inflation per year.

Fairly relaxed over that.

* Dedicate portion of tobacco tax take to tobacco control and quit-smoking services.

Seems sensible.

* Ban tobacco vending machines.

Now while it is a legal product.

* License tobacco retailers.


* Compel tobacco firms to disclose product specifications and marketing strategies.

Product specifications yes, marketing strategies no.