Tobacco control shake-up as 2025 target goes up in smoke

About 12,500 people successfully quit smoking each year.

About 12,500 people successfully quit smoking each year.

The national target of being smokefree by 2025 will not be met without a massive shakeup of funding for anti-tobacco groups, the Ministry of Health now concedes.

About 12,500 people successfully quit smoking each year, but this needs to more than triple to reach the 2025 target. At the 2013 census, 13.7 per cent of the adult population said they smoked.

The Government committed three years ago to stamping out smoking by 2025, but a slew of reports have warned that the target is looking shaky.

Ministry documents,  prepared for a meeting with quit smoking providers and advocacy groups last month,  said a "business as usual approach" to encouraging people to quit would no longer work. A greater focus was needed on risky groups, such as pregnant women and the mentally ill, and groups that still had stubbornly high smoking rates, such as Maori and Pacific people. 

"More needs to be done ... to achieve that 2025 goal," the documents say.

Dozens of quit smoking and anti-tobacco advocacy groups could be under threat as the ministry puts millions of dollars worth of services up for tender in the open market as part of the ministry's  "tobacco realignment".

The Government spends million of dollars funding dozens of community quit clinics and bigger research and education organisation, such as Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), which receives about $600,000 a year in public funding.

All these organisations will have to reapply for ministry contracts and could be scrapped if they lose out to a competitor. Quitline, which receives about $9 million from the ministry, is not included in the review, but does face being merged into a single government telehealth service as part of another review.

A ministry spokesman said it was 15 years since New Zealand last altered its tobacco control services, and it was "timely" to consider a change. It was too early to say what any new setup would look like.

Ash director Stephanie Erick said it was true the shakeup could mean the end of her organisation, but it was more important that the smokefree goal was reached.

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The number of smokers had been dropping steadily, but broadbrush tactics that had worked previously were less effective for smokers still holding out.

"We haven't been getting to that group early enough," she said. "Given what we are faced with, we do need to really radically change."

Smokefree Coalition director Prudence Stone said the change could "feel scary", but a different approach was needed, providing there remained a strong focus on reaching Maori.

The Government has faced renewed calls to take a tougher stance against tobacco, with committed tax hikes running their course next year and plain packaging plans stalled under legal threats from the industry.

In an article in the New Zealand Medical Journal last November, public health experts argued that tobacco licensing, forcing firms to phase out nicotine, restricting tobacco sales to pharmacies and subsidising less harmful alternatives such as e-cigarettes should all be on the table.

So far the Government has not committed to any of these steps, but Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga  indicated in Parliament in February that he was seeking advice on some new regulations, including banning smoking in cars, tax increases and e-cigarettes.

 - Stuff

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