Smoking rates falling: Will we reach the Smokefree 2025 target? Friday, 16 December 2016

Source: Stuff, 16 December 2016

An ever-increasing number of people are stubbing out their cigarettes for the last time, bringing renewed hope that New Zealand could be smokefree by 2025.

New research has revealed the number of regular smokers dropped to 15.1 per cent in 2013, according to NZ Census data, which translates to a 22.5 per cent drop in smokers since 2006.

"There's a decline in overall and Pacific, Maori and young people. It all looks pretty good," study co-author Professor Richard Edwards, of Otago University, said.

However, Maori rates remain a concern. Latest Health Survey data from the Ministry of Health reveals Maori levels were at 38.6 per cent, a small decline from 42.1 per cent in 2006-07.

Among Maori women, the rate dropped from 45.1 per cent in 2006-07 to 39.7 per cent.

Edwards feels the Goverment goal of being smokefree by 2025 - which is actually a target of 5 per cent or fewer adults smoking - is within reach.

"But unless there's a change of tack, particularly in Maori, then it's not going to happen.

"It's much less substantial and very disappointing among Maori and Pacific," Edwards, also co-director of smokefree research group Aspire 2025, said.

To hit the 2025 target, "we need to do that for all population groups"

"Whatever way we look at it, we need to do more to help Maori stop."

SMOKING IN CARS

Banning smoking in cars carrying children under 18 has been recommended by Parliament's health committee, and Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has said the Government will consider the recommendation.

However, Edwards is unconvinced a law will ever be passed.

"They might say they will look at it, but I think they will rule it out."

Labour health spokeswoman Annette King said she intended to "make a very strong recommendation" for a ban. "You would monitor it the same way you do with cellphones - fines."

WHAT ARE WE DOING?

Lotu-Iiga said there was still "much work to be done" in order to reach 2025 smokefree goal.

"Maori women are a priority group for all tobacco control activities.

"The 'Stop Before You Start' smoking media campaign is specifically aiming at young adults between 17-24, particularly young Maori."

In September, a bill to introduce plain packaging on tobacco passed into law. 

At the time, Lotu-Iiga said the bill moved to "take away the last means of promoting tobacco as a desirable product".

He is hopeful the new packs will be in stores late next year.

Tax increases will continue on tobacco till 2020, in an effort to price smoking further out of reach.

Tobacco tax revenue for the 2015-16 financial year rose to $1.72 billion. 

But the burden on the health system still outweighs tax revenue - in 2010 direct healthcare costs generated by smoking-related illness were estimated at $1.9b annually, compared with tobacco tax revenue at the time of $1.3b.

"If less money is spent treating smoking-related diseases, there is potentially more money to spend on other areas of healthcare," Lotu-Iiga said.

QUIT MESSAGE

One of the Government's key health targets was centred around GPs offering enrolled patients help to quit smoking. 

"There's quite a lot of evidence that if you simply say to someone 'You should stop smoking' that they give up," Karori GP Jeff Lowe said.

He believed that normalising quitting could happen very quickly.

"Think about it. It's now unusual to walk into a smoky bar, but in Europe you still can.

"What's important is we've got a target in mind and we're reducing rates, and whether we achieve that or not is another question."

WHAT ABOUT E-CIGARETTES?

Parliament will decide in 2017 whether e-cigarettes and vaping will be permitted in a smokefree New Zealand.

"The Government has recently consulted the public on a proposal to allow the sale of nicotine containing e-cigarettes, with appropriate controls," Lotu-Iiga said.

"The future regulation of e-cigarettes is under active consideration and decisions are expected in the first half of 2017."

A recent literature review suggested vaping could help with weight control by staving off food cravings that occur when people try to quit smoking.

HOW WE COMPARE: 

Daily smoking rates of adults in 2011

OECD average: 20.3 per cent
New Zealand: 16.5 per cent
Australia: 15.1 per cent
United States: 14.8 per cent 
Canada:15.7 per cent
United Kingdom: 19.6 per cent
Ireland: 29.0 per cent