ASH says current policies working to make smoke free target

ASH writes:

Our decline in smoking in the past four years is extraordinary – equivalent to what took two decades to achieve. New Zealand has recently had some of the most dramatic decreases in smoking in the world, including for Māori and highly deprived groups.

Last month, the New Zealand Health Survey showed the daily smoking rate is now down to 6.8 per cent in adults, half the rate in 2018; almost a quarter of a million fewer Kiwis are now smoking daily, and it puts us in a tiny club of countries that have smoking rates under 7 per cent.

What we have in common with these successful countries is people switching from smoked tobacco to less harmful alternatives. The dramatic declines are accompanied by large uptakes in vaping, leading to a tsunami of 75,000 quitters in Aotearoa in the past year. To reach the smoking goal of 5 per cent or less (that is, 95 per cent or more of all adults being “smokefree”), around 100,000 smokers need to quit over the next two years.

Vaping is not harmless, but it is far far less harmful than smoking. The decline in tobacco use has been massive, and welcome.

The unprecedented progress shown in the New Zealand Health Survey should have been a cause to celebrate. Still, concern at the coalition Government’s intention to repeal the 2022 Smokefree legislation overshadowed this remarkable achievement.

Many have claimed this repeal would jeopardise the Smokefree 2025 goal. However, this is simply not the case. Predictive modelling, which contributed to the scientific underpinning of the legislation, indicated that it would take until 2040 to get smoking rates down to 8 per cent without the law. The reality is that we have already exceeded this expectation. And a closer look reveals that the three headline measures in the act were unlikely to have any impact before 2025.

For a start, the highly touted “smokefree generation” has already been achieved for people under 25. Only 3 per cent of people aged 15-24 smoked daily in 2022/23, a quarter of the rate only four years ago. Besides, the age restrictions in the act wouldn’t have taken effect until 2027.

This is important to note. The measures the Government decided not to implement, would have no real impact by 2025, so won’t affect making that target.

While ever the demand for cigarettes remains high, abruptly limiting tobacco outlets on July 1, 2024 from 6000 to 600 would not significantly impact smoking rates but could penalise the almost 300,000 people still dependent on cigarettes. In addition, a sudden and dramatic 90 per cent reduction in retail outlets from around 6000 to 600 is likely to cause unnecessary chaos, especially in Auckland, with only 30 outlets allocated for about 90,000 people who smoke; each outlet would have to serve on average, approximately two customers every minute.

This is the view of ASH, our leading anti-smoking group. There is a good reason the Government repealed the changes made last year – because they were bacd policy.

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