Smokefree 2025: make it harder to get tobacco and it will be snuffed out, report says Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Source: The Dominion Post, 2 August 2017

Smokers might need to travel to the next town to buy a pack of ciggies by 2022, if the Government accepts drastic recommendations made by a group of health experts.

The group, backed by Dame Tariana Turia, also proposes a cut-off birthdate for purchasing tobacco, which would mean future generations would never be permitted to buy cigarettes.

The drastic measures will be presented to MPs on Wednesday morning, along with a warning that the Government's Smokefree 2025 goal is not going to happen at current cessation rates, and that Maori won't get there until at least 2060.

One of the five key strategies is to cap the number of tobacco retailers at 300. New Zealand has more than 550 officially recognised towns and cities, so the recommendation would mean many population centres would miss out.

Project leader Richard Edwards, a University of Otago professor, said: "At the moment there are about 6500 retailers. We're suggesting that's not good, and want to stop that."

Key Recomendations

Cap retailers

Maximum of 300 retailers permitted to sell tobacco products by 2022

Remove additives

Such as menthol and sugar, and reduce nicotine content

Increase buying age

Introduce a cut-off birth date for purchase, to create future 'tobacco-free' generations, starting in December 2020

Raise tax

Increase tobacco tax by 20 per cent annually for three years

Minimum retail price

For all tobacco products from December 2020.

Edwards is among a group of 30 health experts who will launch the five-year strategy and accompanying progress report, titled Achieving Smokefree Aotearoa by 2025, at a Parliament breakfast.

Turia, the Maori Party co-founder who pushed for the policy of raising cigarette taxes by 10 per cent a year, said: "The plan includes a focus on interventions in areas that have not been addressed before - such as reducing the retail availability of tobacco, and reducing its appeal and addictiveness."

Another strategy would see the current purchasing age of 18 increased gradually every year, starting from December 2022.

"That means people born after a certain date won't be able to purchase cigarettes, and they'll never be able to purchase cigarettes," Edwards said. 

Other key strategies included removing additives such as menthol that make cigarettes more palatable, increasing tax on cigarettes by 20 per cent annually for three years, and imposing a minimum tax. 

Additional suggestions include ending the duty-free allowance; adding a one-off 15 per cent tax on roll-your-own cigarettes on top of the proposed total tax increase; and increasing campaigns targeted at Maori, Pacific and low-income smokers.

The Government's Smokefree 2025 goal has existed since 2011, but there has never been a strategy, "so this report is saying here's a strategy for you", Edwards said.

When questioned on the lack of a strategy, Associate Health Minister Nicky Wagner said: "We're starting to see the effectiveness of blanket policies diminish, which is why the Government has realigned stop-smoking services to target the most difficult to reach cohorts, particularly Maori and pregnant women."

Adult smoking rates had dropped from 18 per cent in 2007 to 14 per cent in 2016, and annual daily smoking rates for year 10 students had dropped from 8.2 per cent in 2006 to 2.5 per cent in 2015, she said.

However, Edwards said Maori rates sat at about 35 per cent for men, and 40 per cent for women. "Smokefree 2025 is about achieving Smokefree 2025 for all population groups. This really was a Maori vision and idea."

New Zealand Health Survey data reveals an average of 13 people die from smoking-caused disease every day. That amounted to 5000 people a year, or one in six of all deaths, Edwards said.

The Smokefree goal, of achieving less than 5 per cent smoking prevalence, emerged from calls by Maori leaders and the Maori affairs select committee, which conducted an inquiry in 2010 into the impacts of the tobacco industry.

The inquiry's proposals have been only partly addressed in the seven years since, the Edwards group's progress report says.

Tax and GST on tobacco generated about $1.3 billion in 2008-09, and Edwards conceded that far outweighed the direct health costs of about $400m for treating smoking-related diseases.

"Is it a good trade-off? Do we want to trade off money for the Government for killing 5000 people a year? For me, as a doctor, that's an easy trade-off."

He argued that factoring in lost productivity, lost earnings and lost years of life put the real cost of smoking at more than $5b each year.