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Big tobacco winning the battle for hearts and lungs

Big tobacco winning the battle for the hearts and lungs

of young adults

Progress towards the Smokefree 2025 goal is too slow, especially for Maori and Pacific people.

The goal established by the Government in 2011 in response to the findings of an Inquiry into the tobacco industry, is for minimal levels of smoking in New Zealand by 2025, meaning fewer than 5% of adults still smoking.

Data from the 2015/16 New Zealand Health Survey released today shows that overall, 14% of adult New Zealanders (520,000) are smoking daily: 36% of Maori (172,000); 23% of Pacific people (51,000); and 12.5% of European/Other (359,000). Women and men smoke at about the same rate, although Asian women smoke at a much lower rate than Asian men.

Overall, these figures show only a very small improvement overall over the last few years, but no improvement for Maori and Pacific people.

Although the tobacco industry may be thrilled by this slow progress – especially among young adults who are their new recruits - the new Bill English Government has an opportunity to see this as a warning bell and take urgent action. A good start would be for the Minister of Health to take responsibility for tobacco and not delegate this critical issue. Ideally, the Prime Minister should retain oversight over the Smokefree goal.

The slow progress towards the 2025 goal is bad news for smokers, two-thirds of whom will die from smoking and on average lose at least ten years of life.

The limited progress is also bad news for the health service and the economy because the costs of tobacco industry caused death and disease are huge and easily outweigh the tax income generated for the government.

“The tobacco industry is winning the battle for the hearts and lungs of young adult New Zealanders” says Professor Robert Beaglehole, Chair of ASH New Zealand.

Boyd Broughton, Programme Director for ASH, says “the low rate of smoking in people aged 15-17 of 5.2% is good news but the much higher rate of 19% in people aged 18-24 years is alarming. The news is especially bad for the most disadvantaged New Zealanders who smoke at almost four times the rate of the wealthiest. Fundamentally, we need a Minister of Health who cares about the health of all New Zealanders, especially Maori and the most disadvantaged.”

Professor Beaglehole encourages the new Government to “take immediate steps to reduce the availability of tobacco products and do much more to help smokers quit, especially pregnant women. Investing in reducing smoking is the best single health intervention for this Government”.

Details on the New Zealand Health Survey data are at:


ASH is an independent voice for Smokefree 2025.


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