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Annette King Speech -Smokefree National Conference

Smokefree National Conference
Pipitea Marae, Thorndon Quay
Tuesday, May 2, 2000

Much More Work To Be Done



Good morning. I am honoured to open the 2000 Smokefree National Conference organised by the Health Sponsorship Council, the Cancer Society, Te Hotu Manawa, the National Heart Foundation and the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation - collectively known as the ‘National Smokefree Working Group’

I suppose I should also be surprised that such a notable grouping of professionals would want to invite someone of my apparently dubious character and reputation to open a national conference.

You see, since I became Minister of Health late last year, I have received a number of letters describing me as a fascist or Nazi, and most of these letters have contained a number of expletives.

You can probably guess what the letters concern, and who they are from. I certainly didn't make myself popular with a vociferous minority of smokers when I said I wanted to see smoking banned in cafes, bars and restaurants.

I believe, however, that not only are the sort of people who write such letters in a very small minority, but that probably the number of smokers who are opposed to an enhanced smokefree environment are also in a minority. Most smokers can see the justice and the good health sense in a smokefree environment.

I am pleased to be among people from a vast array of professional backgrounds here, all with one goal in mind - to advance the strategy to combat smoking rates and smoking-related illnesses.

Many of you have worked hard since the introduction of the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990, and subsequent amendments, to help reduce people’s exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and to reduce smoking. And I know the result of this conference will help ensure that the good work continues.

As you all will be aware, reducing smoking prevalence in New Zealand in the 1990s has been a harder task than ever before. The number of smokers declined steeply in the 80s but in the 90s we are dealing with those who have not been able to kick the habit and who have not been responsive to the smoking reduction initiatives put in place.

We are still in the grip of an international trend of rising smoking rates among young people. As I understand you will hear later today, New Zealand youth smoking rates continue to be a cause for great concern, despite some initiatives put in place in the late 1990s. Strengthened and sustained programmes are needed, even if changes will not occur overnight.

With the risk of early death of one in two for the individual smoker who continues to smoke through adulthood, the earlier we can stop our youth smoking the less risk they have of an early death.

Mäori rates are also still alarmingly high. Statistics tell of a frightening story of almost one in two Mäori adults smoking. Total Mäori deaths due to cigarette smoking are expected to double within the next 30 years. Smoking rates for young Mäori women are of major concern. It is disturbing to me that around half of Mäori babies are born to mothers who smoke.

The establishment of Apärangi Tautoko Auahi Kore (or ‘ATAK’) provides a much-needed voice to push for distinctly Mäori solutions. At the same time there have been Mäori initiatives such as the Aukati Kai Paipa 2000 pilot programme, run by Mäori for Mäori. Funded by the HFA and Pharmac this pilot had its national conference last month where it sought to develop a template model to provide the most effective way to deliver future smoking cessation programmes for Mäori, particularly Mäori women.

With youth and Mäori of major concern, meeting the theme of this conference, Developing the $x million tobacco control strategy for New Zealand, will be a demanding task.

National smoking prevalence has remained fairly static over the last five years. It is important that the fight to reduce tobacco use be multi-pronged so that this prevalence can be further reduced.

The Government is determined to do more to toughen up controls on tobacco. The National Drug Policy advocates a number of priorities, including the need to improve health by limiting the harms and hazards of tobacco, alcohol, illicit and other drug use, along with emphasis on reducing the prevalence of tobacco smoking and exposure to environmental smoke.

The Smoke-free Environments (Enhanced Protection) Amendment Bill before the House addresses the latter two priorities. It aims to extend prohibitions on smoking and tobacco products and to increase protection for non-smokers in workplaces and schools and childcare facilities. I intend to introduce a Supplementary Order Paper to the Bill at the Select Committee stage to ban smoking in cafes, restaurants and bars, and requiring tobacco companies to identify the ingredients of their products by brand. There are also a number of other issues we are working on.

The Bill will, among other things, provide for entirely smokefree schools, buildings and grounds, 24 hours a day, seven days a week (excluding tertiary), and ban smoking in workplaces entirely (extending protection to non-office workers and to those working in buildings with shared ventilation). It will also allow judges the discretion, on convicting a person of selling a tobacco product to a minor, to impose a court order banning that person/business from selling tobacco products for a period of time.

Enforcement of the ban on sales to minors have proved effective in terms of reducing young peoples’ ease of access to tobacco. Many young people, however, can still access tobacco from other sources - such as friends and families. It may be time to also ban the supply of tobacco products to minors, sending a message that it is not okay to help young people become, or stay, addicted.

While the Government seeks legislative control over tobacco, further control is taking place in the form of smoking cessation programmes. The Aukati Kai Paipa programme that I mentioned is a prime example.

I have been advised smoking cessation was a hot topic in the two Smokefree conferences of 1997 and 1998, organised by the Health Sponsorship Council, Cancer Society and Te Hotu Manawa Mäori. The gist of that discussion was that we need an overall smoking cessation programme, we haven’t got it, and not much is going to change until we have it.

Well, we've come some way since then. And I'm pleased smoking cessation in New Zealand - with the Quitline and Quit Campaigns - is no longer a weak link in our overall tobacco control strategy. But this Government is determined to do more.

Tobacco control should not only aim to curtail smoking rates, but also the prevalence of, and exposure to, environmental tobacco smoke. The public has come to believe strongly they should be protected from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

A Ministry survey of some 2500 people showed that 70 percent of respondents found tobacco smoke bothersome. Nine out of 10 agreed there should be restrictions on where people could smoke at work. Sixty percent supported entirely Smokefree workplaces.

I believe there is a lot more work to be done to reduce smoking rates and smoking-related illnesses among the general population. Greater focus needs to be placed on reducing the stubbornly high smoking rates of youth and Mäori.

Your presence here demonstrates how determined you are to help provide this focus. I wish you a productive and informative conference and look forward to seeing the results of your discussions.


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