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O’Connor Speech: Launch Tobacco Control Research

O’Connor Speech: Launch of Tobacco Control Research Strategy Wellington

Damien O’Connor Speech: Good morning, I would like to thank Dr Marewa Glover and her steering committee for inviting me to be here today to open this symposium.

One of my responsibilities as Associate Minister of Health is tobacco control. Tobacco, along with alcohol, requires that society take an integrated approach. We need taxation, health promotion, legislation, and of course, solid, evidence-based research as how best to tackle these problems.

I commend you, the research community, for taking the initiative and creating a strategic vision for tobacco control research in New Zealand. I welcome the construction of the Tobacco Control Research Strategy.

This vision is timely for several reasons.

Tobacco is a critical issue for health and for society as a whole. It continues to be the greatest major threat to health and wellbeing in this country.

Young people continue to take up smoking at the same rate as the current adult population. This is a worrying trend, and we need to know more about the reasons why.

I am impressed by the effort put into this discussion document. It properly addresses the tobacco research needs for young people, Mäori, Pacific people, and women. These groups are a priority for this Government in reducing the prevalence and consumption rates of tobacco use.

We have succeeded in reducing smoking prevalence from around 56 percent of adults in 1981 to about 25 per cent now. But research shows us that teenagers still think smoking is the norm for adults.

Well, I want to change that. I want to see smoking prevalence decrease from around 25 percent to 20 percent over the next few years.

I want to encourage young people to resist the strong marketing directives to take up smoking. I want to assist existing smokers to quit and re-gain their health, the chance of a full lifetime, and the chance to share their productive lives with their families, whanau, and loved ones.

As we have seen with the Smoke-free Environments Bill, which has recently been reported back to Parliament for its second reading, good research is critical to effective public health action.

It is critical to identify target groups and public opinion trends; explore the wider health effects of tobacco; evaluate the success of current programmes; give an insight into the true costs of tobacco use in this country; and provide information to assist in prioritising bids for expenditure in tobacco control.

New Zealand's research data has played a key role in helping us to now stand on the precipice of passing world-class tobacco control legislation.

But while this is an exciting success after a long period of commitment and hard work by many people, research will be needed to show that the legislation has made a positive difference.

While New Zealand has relied heavily on overseas research in the past to guide us in putting tobacco control measures in place, it is timely to look at developing our own research.

Local research is necessary to meet our governance needs. To reflect the unique make-up of our society. To maximise the opportunity to use our own home-grown talent to provide data. And to provide direction for research in the international tobacco control community.

For example, New Zealand's pilot subsidised nicotine patches and gum programme is a world-first in heavily subsidising nicotine replacement therapy for smokers who want to quit.

An independent evaluation of this programme's success is eagerly awaited later this year, both by New Zealand and international communities of researchers and policy-makers in this area.

Major and ongoing research projects such as the Health Behaviours Survey and New Zealand Health Survey give us valuable insights into smoking behaviour, and health status of smokers.

The Ministry has also funded research projects such as the 4th Form Students Survey, and an assessment of tobacco product constituents to support possible future regulatory actions.

And there is an exciting research initiative called the Health Monitor. This 10-year cycle of surveys will allow us to track impacts of tobacco control strategies on public opinion/behaviour, and to answer questions such as "do smoke-free venues help smokers to feel encouraged to quit?" and "Is inequality between Mäori and non-Mäori health outcomes widening or contracting?"

Tobacco research funding is spread across various agencies, including the Health Research Council, the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, Quit Group, Lottery Grants Board, and the Ministry of Health.

The Government has put considerable resources into tobacco control in the last few years, including research. In five years we have more than doubled the budget from about $12 million annually to around $27 million.

But there is always more that can be done with more resources. Your discussion document contains some interesting proposals, including the possibility of establishing a national tobacco control research centre.

At this stage, nothing specific has been discussed by Government. Any proposal would need to be considered by my colleagues. I can confirm, however, the importance of New Zealand-based knowledge to guide the future of our country's comprehensive tobacco control strategy.

I want to wish you every success for this symposium. I understand that you will be focusing on the Research Strategy paper, and sharing updates on a number of exciting new research projects. I look forward to hearing the results.

I want to assure you that I support the efforts you are making to contribute to New Zealand's comprehensive tobacco control strategy. Strategic, relevant, timely and high quality research can guide new policy initiatives, or evaluate the success of existing ones.

For the new generation of New Zealanders facing the single largest preventable cause of death and disease, your work is going to be of critical importance.

I wish you a very successful symposium and continuing success in your work around New Zealand. Thank you for inviting me.

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