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ASH Supports New Smoking Legislation But Urges The Government To Now Give More Help To Smokers To Quit

ASH supports today’s final reading of the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Bill in Parliament, but is urging the Government to keep building on successful current measures to achieve a smokefree New Zealand by 2025.

The Bill introduces three major smoking policies seeking to end smoking in Aotearoa:

· Banning the sale of smoked tobacco to anyone born after 1 January 2009

· Mandating very low nicotine levels in smoked tobacco products to make them non-addictive

· A reduction in smoked tobacco outlets to 600 down from the current 5000 outlets

“These major legislative changes are unlikely to come into force before 2025. They might prevent people taking up smoking in future, but there remains an immediate priority to help hundreds of thousands of Kiwis who need urgent support to quit smoking before they face forced withdrawal when these policies take effect” says ASH Chair, Professor Robert Beaglehole.

“The recent New Zealand Health Survey shows the rate of smoking is already declining faster than ever, putting us on track for Smokefree 2025, with a daily smoking rate of less than 5%. In the last few years increased vaping’s been more disruptive to smoking than any policy of the last 2 decades, correlating with a 30% decline in smoking by wāhine Māori in the last 2 years alone. This is all in the absence of any ‘endgame’ policy” says Prof Beaglehole.

Our recent Year 10 survey results continue to show record lows, with only around 700 students (aged 14-15 years old) smoking daily in Aotearoa.

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“Banning the sale of tobacco to a ‘smokefree generation’ born after 1 January 2009 is trying to fix something that’s already a success story, because only 1% of young teenagers smoke daily. The policy challenge is no longer the youth uptake of smoking, but striking the balance between helping adult smokers access safer alternatives, and preventing our youth taking up vaping.”

“The legislation’s been rushed through Parliament. Whilst there’s a case for forced endgame measures for smoked tobacco, we’re concerned that there hasn’t been adequate scrutiny of these untested measures, especially when they’ll impact thousands of people who are already addicted to smoking. There’s also a risk from unintended consequences, such as growth in the black market.”

“Lessons from dealing with illicit drugs, alcohol and problem gambling, show the need to ensure a rapid reduction in supply doesn’t worsen inequalities, and doesn’t punish dependent smokers, especially those in deprived communities” says Prof Beaglehole.

The legislation embeds low nicotine levels, and a sales cap on cigarette retail outlets. ASH would prefer to see measures such as nicotine levels and shop limits in regulation. This would be far more consistent with delivering untested policy in a responsible way. Using primary legislation is a high-risk approach to experimental policies.

The legislation also proposes an evaluation after 6 years. “This is far too long to wait for policies that are untested on a population, and are likely to have significant unplanned consequences. The potential impact of the new measures on smoking, social justice and illicit trade should be reviewed annually. It is unfair and unjust not to monitor them more regularly, and we should be prepared to modify the approach if it is either not working, or causing harm” says Prof Beaglehole.

330,000 New Zealanders still smoke daily and smoking rates need to be reduced by up to three-quarters in our poorest communities. More than half of people in these groups will likely still die as a result of smoking. Around 50,000 adults need support to successfully quit smoking tobacco each year.

ASH urges the Government to build on the success of recent and rapid declines in adults and children smoking by urgently focusing on:

· Sustained campaigns to increase quitting by all available methods

· Community-led initiatives for people struggling to quit through alternatives such as vaping and other less harmful means

· More regular tracking of smoking trends to ensure a reversal of the unfairness of past tobacco control measures.

ASH believes that to be fair, the government must avoid further penalizing the people we are trying to protect and help, people who smoke cigarettes.

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