Chewing tobacco, snus and inhaled nicotine products to be legalised in New Zealand
Smokeless tobacco products - including chewing tobacco and inhaled nicotine - are to be legalised.
Associate Health Minister Nicky Wagner announced on Wednesday a move to establish a pre-market approval system for smokeless tobacco and nicotine-delivery products, other than e-cigarettes.
"This is part of new thinking - a forward looking approach, building on some of the innovative new technologies that are available intentionally to try and give smokers safer alternatives to tobacco."
The American Cancer Society labels smokeless tobacco as a "less lethal, but still unsafe" alternative to smoking.
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Wagner made the announcement at Parliament in front health experts and advocates who were there to present the Achieving Smokefree Aotearoa Project (ASAP) - a road map on how to achieve this country's smoke-free 2025 goal.
The plan called for drastic Government action to reduce the availability and convenience of tobacco products, bold restrictions for retailers and massive tax jumps on cigarettes.
Project lead, University of Otago Wellington Professor Richard Edwards, was "a bit taken aback" by Wagner's announcement.
"We put all these recommendations and things in the report and this wasn't one of them."
Edwards said we should assess the impact of new laws around e-cigarettes – set to kick in next year – before adding other types of tobacco-containing products.
But Wagner said: "Restricting sales may actually exacerbate supply and demand issues – for example, we don't want to encourage a black market."
Current laws ban the import, sale and distribution of tobacco products described as suitable for chewing or any other oral use besides smoking.
Some products available internationally, including heat-not-burn, snus, moist snuff, dissolvables and inhaled nicotine may be significantly safer than cigarettes, she said.
Heat-not-burn products are like e-cigarettes, but contain tobacco and other chemicals. They are a category of tobacco products that are heated rather than ignited, usually via an electronic device.
Snus and moist snuff is tobacco stuffed in the gums and cheeks and may be flavoured. Dissolvables are tobacco-containing lozenges.
Today's announcement follows a decision in March to legalise the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes.
The public can provide feedback through the select committee process next year.
Pre-market approval means manufacturers will need to demonstrate their products are significantly less harmful than tobacco smoking before they can be legally sold in this country.
An amendment to the Smokefree Environments Act 1990 will be introduced into Parliament in early 2018.
While smoking rates are dropping, around 36 per cent of Maori still smoke, Wagner said.
Better smoking outcomes for Maori has been the focus for Brigham Riwai-Couch, 16, and his sister, Mei, 14, since their grandad died from lung cancer when they were children.
In 2010, they presented a life-sized coffin made out of cigarette boxes to the Maori Affairs Select Committee, along with a hand-written submission by Brigham that described how much they missed him.
"While my handwriting has improved over the last 7 years, I'm not sure about my chances in terms of health outcomes for Maori," he said on Wednesday.
"We need to stop selling cigarettes in dairies and supermarkets. We need to stop importing tobacco and cigarettes. We need to stop being too scared to make decisions that could help us improve life outcomes for Maori," Mei added.
Dame Tariana Turia supported the more drastic road-map, but wants to see tobacco and nicotine gone altogether, including e-cigarettes.
"I'm not a person who's here to facilitate the tobacco industry in any way whatsoever. I have to look into the eyes of mokopuna on my marae whose aunties, uncles, parents and grandparents no longer are alive today," she told Wagner and others gathered in Parliament's Grand Hall.
"I am never going to support a substance that kills 5000 people each year, and we don't consider banning it."