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Tobacco Is Not Essential For Life - ARFNZ

Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ (ARFNZ) is outraged by a government decision declaring the tobacco industry as essential during the COVID-19 lockdown, and are calling for the decision to be reversed immediately.

The Imperial Tobacco factory in Petone, Lower Hutt, has received permission from the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) to remain open during the nationwide Stage 4 lockdown, despite almost all other non-essential New Zealand businesses being required to close.

Tobacco smoking kills around 5000 New Zealanders each year, which is at odds with MBIE’s initial statement that only businesses deemed "essential for the provision of life" remain open. Cigarettes do not provide life, says Professor Richard Edwards, public health physician and Scientific Advisory Board member of the Foundation, but actually shorten life for most long-term smokers.

"Smoking is an ongoing health emergency," says Richard, who is also co-director of ASPIRE 2025 Research for Tobacco Free Aotearoa. "This decision is particularly unfortunate given the emerging evidence that COVID-19 infections may be more severe among smokers, and flies in the face of the Government’s commitment to achieve a Smokefree Aotearoa.

Richard says it is outrageous that a tobacco factory whose products are likely to contribute to making the effects of the epidemic worse is deemed essential, while stores that provide truly essential services, like local greengrocers, are forced to close.

"A healthier, more beneficial way for Government to help smokers would be to subsidise over-the-counter nicotine replacements in pharmacies, supermarkets, and petrol stations or, ideally, make them available free of charge," says Richard.

Letitia Harding, ARFNZ Chief Executive, says the Foundation is calling on MBIE to reverse this decision and instead promote the health and well-being of New Zealanders.

"This effectively prioritises the interests of the tobacco industry over retailers that provide a useful service," says Letitia, "It is extremely disappointing to see this supported by the Ministry.

"We understand and empathise with people who are still dependent on nicotine, and that the current lockdown will be incredibly stressful for many people. However, for smokers who feel able to, especially those with respiratory health problems, we urge them to take this opportunity to quit smoking.

"Quitline has many online resources providing advice and support for smokers wishing to quit, and pharmacies remain open for anyone seeking quit smoking aids.

"Let’s make the best of a bad situation, and make the Aotearoa we return to closer to being Smokefree."

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