Highest smoking rate in the country

Smokers are lighting up in South Canterbury at significantly higher rates than the rest of the country.

A report prepared by Smokefree South Canterbury for the Maori Affairs Select Committee has shed light on the district's high rate of smokers, particularly among Maori.

A Maori Affairs select committee led by Maori Party co-leader and Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia has called for the Government to halve smoking rates by 2015 and a total ban by 2025. The recommendations have been tabled before Parliament while the report has outlined a disproportionate number of smoking-related issues in South Canterbury.

The report goes on to state a review of health status indicators highlights that tobacco smoking is a key health issue for South Canterbury because rates are high compared with New Zealand as a whole. Heart attacks, ischaemic heart disease, breast, lung and colon cancer were listed as the leading smoking related causes of death in the region.

South Canterbury smoking rates were considerably higher across the board, particularly among youth. Smokers in the 15- 19 age bracket made up 22 per cent compared with an 18 per cent national figure while 20-24-year-old smokers accounted for a staggering 40 per cent compared with 30 per cent across the country.

No figures were available for smoking-related deaths in South Canterbury.

Figures showed there were nearly twice as many Maori smokers in the 20-24 age group in South Canterbury as in the rest of New Zealand.

Those figures remained higher than the national average throughout all the age groups, with 55 per cent of Maori indicating they smoked daily compared with 21 per cent non-Maori.

The summary stated Maori in South Canterbury were disproportionately represented topping the scales in every graph.

Smoking accounted for a 10 per cent gap in health of Maori and non-Maori in South Canterbury with around 22 per cent of all deaths attributed to smoking.

Meanwhile, the call to completely ban tobacco has received a mixed response. Timaru tobacconist Murray Gibson agreed with some of the select committee proposals but questioned the effectiveness of outlawing tobacco.

"If dairies stop selling it, we could lose most of the dairies in New Zealand.

"Increasing tobacco prices will make marijuana and other drugs more affordable."

He said the market for "counterfeit" tobacco would grow as seen in Canada. However, he welcomed the proposal to make tobacco companies fund products to help smokers kick the habit.

Speaking from the Tobacco-free Aotearoa Conference 2010 in Auckland yesterday, ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) spokesman Michael Colhoun said Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia had told the conference she would introduce legislation to remove tobacco displays and restrict its promotion. "It's a fantastic result.

"We know it will hit the tobacco industry where it hurts."

The Timaru Herald