New Zealand slipping in its smokefree lead
Within a lifetime, smoking in New Zealand has shifted from being a social norm to socially shunned.
However as the deadline looms for Smokefree 2025 - a commitment by the Government to help reduce smoking to minimal levels in New Zealand in 10 years - anti-smoking organisations are calling for it to take bolder steps to preserve New Zealand's position as a world-leader in the fight against tobacco.
The term "smokefree" was agreed to be an aspirational goal through reducing smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels, not a commitment to the banning of smoking altogether.
The vision is for a country where smoking rates are lower than 5 per cent.
In the 2013 Census 14 per cent of the total adult population - or 463,194 people - said they smoked.
Around 5000 Kiwis die each year from disease caused by smoking tobacco.
Even the Ministry of Health admits it's off track. The proposed solution? A roadmap.
"The goal is ambitious and we are currently not fully on track to achieving it, but we believe it can be achieved with both continued and additional concerted effort on a range of tobacco control fronts, including the support of local authorities and all government agencies," Ministry of Health's national programme manager for tobacco control Paul Badco said.
"The Government recently announced its intention to develop a roadmap towards meeting the 2025 goal. This will set out the policy intentions in more detail."
Ongoing activities involve significant tax increases (the next being on January 1 2016), health promotion media campaigns, continued clinical focus through use of health targets, progression of standardised or plain packaging legislation, boosted cessation services, and compliance and enforcement improvements under the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990.
Although all policies contributed, it is likely the reductions in tobacco consumption can largely be attributed to tax hikes, Badco said.
While there's a way to go, let's not forget how far the country has already come: When tobacco consumption peaked in New Zealand in 1953, almost three-quarters of men and a third of women smoked.
In 1984, the Maori population had the highest rates of lung cancer incidence reported from any cancer registry in the world.
A tobacco control programme was initiated that year.
From 1985-1990, New Zealand had the most rapid reduction in smoking consumption in the OECD.
But today, Australia is ahead.
This might have something to do with it being the first country to enact standardised or plain packaging, in 2011.
Figures show average cigarette consumption has plunged 13 per cent in the last year and 19.6 per cent in the last three years.
In New Zealand, tobacco manufacturers' returns supplied to the Ministry show consumption has declined 6 per cent per year since 2010, or 23 per cent since 2010.
While New Zealand was one of the earliest proponents of standardised packaging, the legislation has languished after its first reading amid fears of an expensive legal battle with the tobacco industry.
Smokefree Coalition Chair and National Smokefree Working Group member Dr Jan Pearson said the legislation should be a priority for the Government.
Evidence shows standardised packaging stops tobacco companies' ability to advertise through their "clever and attractive" branding, she said.
Emeritus Professor at the University of Auckland Robert Beaglehole agreed the bill "desperately" needs its second reading.
"At this rate, New Zealand will not meet the target of Smokefree 2025," Beaglehole said. "But it is achievable, and we know what to do to get back on track."
However standardised packaging wasn't an answer on its own, he said.
"The lesson we've learnt is that you need to do multiple things at once. In Australia, with increasing taxation and standardised packaging and public campaigns, they've had a tremendous drop in consumption."
There are immediate health and financial benefits for people who quit smoking, he said.
In the longer term, it leads to a cleaner environment, health service benefits, and an increased average life expectancy.
"We all know about nuclear-free New Zealand, and how that's been internalised, and now let's also continue to lead the world in terms of being smokefree."
Responding to the recommendations of a landmark Parliamentary inquiry by the Maori Affairs select committee, in March 2011 the Government adopted the Smokefree 2025 goal for New Zealand.
The term "smokefree" was agreed to be an aspirational goal through reducing smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels, not a commitment to the banning of smoking altogether. The vision is for a country where smoking rates are lower than 5 per cent.
FACTS AND STATS:
- Smoking is a major risk factor for many cancers and for respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
- Around 5000 people die each year in New Zealand because of smoking or second-hand smoke exposure.
- Internationally, tobacco smoke is responsible for about 1 in 10 adult deaths or around 5 million deaths each year.
- Current smoking prevalence among Maori remains high and unchanged since 2006/07 at 39 per cent.
- Pacific and Asian smoking prevalence has not changed at 25 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.
- Most smokers have tried quitting. Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) reported quitting smoking for at least 24 hours.
Source: New Zealand Health Survey and Statistics New Zealand
A BRIEF TIMELINE OF TOBACCO CONTROL IN NZ:
Medical professionals first noticed an association between cigarettes and lung cancer in the 1930s, however tobacco consumption continued to increase in New Zealand until its peak in 1953.
In 1979, Tobacco was defined as a toxic substance in the new Toxic Substances Act.
1984: The Government initiated a tobacco control programme.
From 1990-1998, tobacco tax was adjusted for inflation at least annually.
1990: Smokefree Environments Bill passed into law. This incorporated earlier bans and placed additional restrictions on smoking in many indoor workplaces, cafes, and restaurants, and placed bans on smoking in public transport and other public areas. It also regulated the marketing and promotion of tobacco products and also provided for the control, and disclosure, of the contents of tobacco products.
1993: Te Hotu Manawa Maori established a contract to coordinate and strengthen tobacco control among Maori.
1997: Smoke-free Environments Amendment Bill No.2 passed, becoming the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act (1997), amending the Smoke-free Environments Act (1990) to: ban sales of tobacco to anyone younger than 18, ban sales of cigarettes in packs of less than 20, ban incentives to retailers to promote tobacco products.
1999: Quitline and Quit/Me Mutu campaign launched.
2003: New Zealand signed the world's first public health treaty designed to reduce the health and economic effects of tobacco - the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
2004: All buildings and grounds of schools and early childhood centres required to be smokefree. Later that year, all licensed premises and other workplaces become smokefree in New Zealand.
2005: South Taranaki District Council was the first local authority in New Zealand to pass a policy discouraging smoking in Council-owned swimming pools and outdoor areas, including playgrounds and parks. More councils follow.
2008: Regulations around graphic pictorial health warnings appeared on all tobacco packages sold in New Zealand come into force: 30 per cent of the front and 90 per cent of the back of cigarette packets must be covered by graphic health warnings.
2012: In Budget 2012 the Government allocated $5 million per annum for the Pathway to Smokefree New Zealand 2025 Innovation Fund.
2014: The Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Amendment Bill had its first reading in February.