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Political leadership needed to achieve tobacco-free goal

28 February 2012

Political leadership needed to achieve tobacco-free goal

Clear goals and detailed planning are critical to achieve the government’s aim of making New Zealand ‘smoke-free’ by 2025, according to health researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington.

In newly published research, they have defined what is needed for tobacco ‘endgame’ planning for governments, both in New Zealand and overseas.

“Research indicates that incremental efforts are not enough to reduce smoking to near zero by 2025. This is the case in New Zealand where smoking has declined very slowly in the last two decades, and over 20% of the adult population still smokes,” says lead author Dr George Thomson.

The researchers say that the strategic goals need to be explicit, detailed and bold, and should aim to reduce smoking to under 1% in any social or ethnic group.

Their article, published in the international journal Tobacco Control, argues that a number of preconditions may be needed for a realistic tobacco endgame plan.

These include banning political donations by tobacco companies and their allies and agents, as in New South Wales. Some of the conditions needed to end tobacco use already fit the New Zealand situation.

“We have great advantages in having good borders and low corruption, so illegal tobacco is much less of a problem than in other countries,” Thomson says.

The article also says that a tobacco-free New Zealand needs clear targets such as: close to zero tobacco use, the ending of the commercial supply of tobacco, and the total denormalisation of tobacco for children.

According to Thomson, setting a clear end date for commercial tobacco sales would be one of the best incentives for quitting.

“Any preventable deaths, let alone the current 5000 a year, should be stopped. Definite endgame plans are needed now to ensure that. We also need to ensure that trade and other treaties, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, don’t interfere with our actions to end tobacco in Aotearoa,” he says

New Zealand still has a relatively high adult smoking rate (20%) compared to under 12% in California and under 17% in Canada. The article suggests that New Zealand may need to reduce smoking below 15% soon, in order to get the momentum needed to achieve the tobacco-free 2025 goal.

“Below this level may result in a public and political ‘tipping point’ where smoking rapidly becomes unacceptable, and laws to ensure a tobacco-free New Zealand are politically easier. However, political leadership has been vital in many countries in rapidly reducing smoking, and the same is needed in this country.”

One of the co-authors, Professor Tony Blakely has shown that eliminating smoking could add an average three years of life for the whole New Zealand population, as well as much better quality of life.

“We must put in place methods for a more predictable and faster end to smoking,” says Blakely.

The article is freely available at:

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