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O'Connor: Smokefree symposium

Smokefree symposium - facing the challenges with fresh thinking

What did the tobacco control community achieve last year? What challenges remain ahead? And what kinds of fresh thinking can we adopt for the future?

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Kia Ora,

Thank you to the organising committee for the invitation to speak this afternoon. I'd also like to thank the Health Sponsorship Council for providing the administrative support to run this event.

This symposium is important because it provides the tobacco control sector an opportunity to review the year - to look at what has worked, and to assess what we could be doing better.

It also provides a forum for people to get to know each other better - which is extremely important if we are to work together collaboratively.

So, what did we achieve last year? What challenges remain ahead of us? And what kinds of fresh thinking can we adopt for the future?

First the successes. Please bear with me, there's quite a list.

During 2006, support for smoke-free bars and restaurants continued to grow. More than four-fifths of all New Zealanders now approve of the ban, up from less than two-thirds in 2004.

Among smokers too, support for the ban has leapt - to 64 per cent from 29 percent in 2004. This is particularly pleasing, and is clear proof that the legislation makes sense.

I have also been encouraged by the latest call statistics coming out of the Quit Group. The number of calls to help lines is increasing, and more of the callers are Maori.

The Quit Group has also this year embraced the idea of reality TV. Filming real people, without scripting, and allowing the public to see first-hand what experiences people have when attempting to quit is innovative and exciting.

The first series of ads, which ran in July and August, showed Tash's battle to give up the weed. They obviously touched a nerve with the public.

The number of calls to Quitline exceeded the target set before the campaign launch. About 600 quitters more than expected called in the first two weeks alone.

I hope this trend continues and gets a further boost when the next series of ads, featuring Stu, hits TV screens in January.

Other achievements include the expansion of face-to-face Aukati Kai Paipa services and its improved infrastructure. Similar Pacific services are in development and likely to be up and running next year.

Cabinet will also shortly be making decisions on pictorial health warnings on tobacco products.

People need to be aware of and reminded of the very serious health risks associated with smoking, and one of the most effective ways to do this is through the use of large graphic warnings on cigarette packets.

Images of gangrenous toes, rotten gums - I like to call it "truth in labelling".

All in all, the work we are doing is having an impact. One example can be seen in the latest statistics relating to youth smoking.

Daily smoking rates continue to decline in among Year 10 students of both sexes.

I have also been impressed by the smoke-free cars campaign, which has been showing on our screens in the last month, and I look forward to following its progress.

It is crucial that we continue to promote smoke-free homes, cars and public places, as we know it sets a good example to children.

We know that the more children and young people are exposed to parental smoking in their home and other places the more likely they are to become smokers.

The more parents that can be empowered to quit the more young people won't start.

The solution sounds simple, but it will take a concerted effort over a long period of time.

I want also to congratulate the various local bodies around the country that have taken a strong stand against tobacco by making their parks and playgrounds smoke-free.

In other developments, the Commerce Commission is following moves in the United States and other countries, and has announced that they are to investigate the use of potentially misleading terms on tobacco products, such as light and mild.

I support their decision to undertake this investigation and look forward to their findings.

Now to the disappointments.

Four years ago when I addressed this symposium, I said I wanted smoking prevalence rates to reduce to less than 20 per cent in the short term.

We are not there yet and there still appears to be about a quarter of the population smoking. Overall nearly one in two Maori are smokers and for Maori women in the 15-24 age group smoking rates are around 60 per cent.

We have struggled over the past decade to significantly reduce the number of people who smoke. People are smoking less, but they are still smoking.

We need to continue the attack smoking on many fronts.

Firstly, as I said earlier, we need to ensure that our young people don't start.

There is a lot of pressure on them to take up the habit - through the placement of tobacco products in supermarkets and careful placement of product in TV programmes and movies. We must counter this with effective campaigns and innovative thinking of our own.

One opportunity is by rolling out the Reducing Smoking Initiation Framework we have developed. This is a document for everyone in tobacco control - and all of our work should link to this framework.

It is time we saw this in action. I see from the agenda that there is to be more discussion around this later in the symposium, and I hope that you will develop some very innovative ideas for implementing this framework.

We also need to provide an environment where smokers will attempt to quit and provide the support services for them to achieve this goal.

DHBs and PHOs must make tobacco control a priority area and we all need to support them in doing this.

It's obvious why, but it does no harm to say it again. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand, killing almost 5000 New Zealanders a year. It also causes a multitude of illnesses, which puts enormous pressure on our health system.

As a tobacco control community, we need to better co-ordinate services and provide improved referral processes so that those that need help to quit get it.

We need to continue to break down the barriers to accessing smoking cessation support. Cessation services should not be in competition with each other, but rather they should work together to assess and deliver the most appropriate service for individuals.

Unlike many countries around the world, we have provided subsidised, and in some cases free, Nicotine Replacement Therapy. We need to get the most we possibly can out of this.

We also need to think outside of the square as to how to motivate people to quit.

Fresh thinking for the future requires learning from the past. Smoking has accounted for the deaths of about 171,000 people in New Zealand during the 50-year period 1950 -2000.

I repeat 171,000 people - a frightening statistic.

Too often we think of those dying from smoking as being elderly, and that lung cancer is an elderly person's disease.

Well, that is not the reality. In fact, about half of the 171,000 who died as a result of smoking were still in middle age and lost on average 23 years of life.

This year 1500 New Zealanders in middle age will die of a smoking related illness.

We need to convince all New Zealanders that smoking is a community problem and therefore we need community-based solutions that are part of a wider national programme.

We know what a comprehensive tobacco control programme looks like. New Zealand has all the foundations, but we must build on these to make the programme more successful in reducing the harms caused by smoking.

To recap:
·In 1990, New Zealand banned all tobacco sponsorship and advertising and smoking from offices.
·Then in 2004, New Zealand was again a world leader in banning smoking from bars, restaurants and all other indoor work places providing these workers with the same rights that office workers had held for the previous fourteen years.

The question is where to from here? Where do we put our effort and resource now to continue to reduce the tobacco epidemic?

Firstly, we must ensure that the thirty million dollars spent annually on tobacco control is being used in the most effective and efficient way possible.

Pick up any newspaper. There are many pressures on the health dollar. We have to deliver value for money by delivering results.

One area where we can make some significant gains in the fight against tobacco is around the display of tobacco products in shops.

I noted when preparing to come to the symposium that this issue was to be highlighted as a key theme of the conference.

As you know the current legislation allows for 100 cigarette packs and 40 cartons at each point of sale.

It raises the obvious question: Is it appropriate or acceptable that when we pop into the dairy or a supermarket for some milk, a loaf of bread, or a newspaper, we are faced with cabinets containing row upon row of tobacco products? Should this be the norm?

Recent research by Dr George Thompson indicates that 60 per cent of retailers in New Zealand are presently flouting the Smokefree Environments Amendment Act, in the way they display tobacco products.

The rules around this are clear, and it is alarming that so many dairies and convenience stores are blatantly ignoring them.

I would like to signal to you now that I have asked the Ministry to look very carefully at this and to provide me with some options to better enforce the rules or to beef them up.

We need to ensure that potential buyers of tobacco products know they are not buying a normal consumer product, but a dangerous and addictive drug. And that having them for sale alongside children's confectionery is not acceptable.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my thanks to you all for the work that you have done over the past year. I've said it before and I'll say it again you are some of the most dedicated and passionate groups of people that I have come across.

I also want to reaffirm this government's commitment to reducing the harms associated with smoking and to keep tobacco at the forefront of our public health agenda. Tobacco control has not dropped off our radar screen. Of that you can be sure.

We must and we will continue to do all we can to persuade people to stop smoking.

Thank you for listening. Kia ora!


ENDS

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