Smokefree 2025 will be Smokefree 2065 unless urgent government action is taken.

Researchers and experts in tobacco control, led by the University of Otago, Wellington and Hāpai Te Hauora, have come up with bold new measures to achieve the 2025 target for New Zealand to be smokefree.

The group proposes an action plan, launched today, with key measures:

  • Dramatically reduce the number of retail outlets that sell tobacco
  • Remove additives and reduce nicotine content in tobacco products
  • Introduce an innovative new policy to gradually increase the minimum purchase age over time, to create future ‘tobacco-free’ generations
  • Increase tobacco tax by 20 per cent annually for three years
  • Introduce a new minimum retail price for tobacco products.

In launching the project’s findings, Hon Dame Tariana Turia says the report provides “a comprehensive action plan.”

“The plan includes a focus on interventions in areas that have not been addressed before – such as reducing the retail availability of tobacco, and reducing its appeal and addictiveness.”

The plan is based on thorough reviews of the evidence and feasibility of potential actions, and of progress so far towards the goal.

The researchers say that without changing the current approach, recent estimates predict the goal will not be achieved by 2025 – and not until ‘beyond 2060’ for Māori.

The goal, to achieve less than 5 per cent smoking prevalence for all ethnic groups, emerged from tough calls by Māori leaders and the Māori Affairs Select Committee, who conducted an in-depth inquiry in 2010 into the impacts of the tobacco industry.

The inquiry’s proposals have only partly been addressed in the seven years since 2010, and Māori remain the worst affected by smoking resulting in persisting and, unacceptable health inequalities.

The impacts of smoking were highlighted by a dramatic submission to the Māori Affairs Select Committee by 7-year-old Mei Riwai-Couch and her brother Brigham, who presented a coffin made of cigarette packs to the Committee. The coffin was a symbol of the impact of the death of their grandfather, a long-term smoker.

The siblings are now teenagers and they urge the Government to take urgent action to make theirs a smokefree generation.

They say: “You don’t know what it is like to lose someone that is so part of your family support system until it happens to you – we don’t want it to happen to other families.”

University of Otago researcher Professor Richard Edwards who led the development of the action plan, believes that although the current reality is stark, there remains cause for optimism.

“The good news is that this appalling situation can be reversed. The Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal is achievable for all peoples in New Zealand – if the right actions are implemented without delay.”

Recent modelling predicts that smoking prevalence would drop below 5 per cent much more rapidly if three of the researchers’ suggested actions (20 per cent tax increases, large reductions in tobacco retail outlets and the ‘tobacco-free generation’ proposal) were implemented together.

Professor Edwards notes that New Zealand was considered a world-leader in tobacco control, but is now slipping behind, as our rate of smoking reduction has slowed in recent years. Other countries have introduced novel measures to reduce the availability and regulate the constituents of tobacco products.

Hāpai Te Hauora led the consultation process to canvass the views of health practitioners, community organisations and NGOs, especially Māori and Pacific peoples, on the proposed actions for the plan.

“Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 came from the community. Over 300 submitters stood in front of the Māori Affairs Select Committee and called for a smokefree nation,” says Ms Hawke, General Manager at Hāpai Te Hauora.

“Attaining the goal would have a massive impact on the health and wellbeing of Māori, Pacific and all New Zealanders,” says Ms Hawke. “This plan lays out what’s needed to do this.”

“We urge all political parties to prioritise taking action to get us to a Smokefree Aotearoa by 2025.

This project was funded with a grant from the Quit Group Trust. The report will be available on the ASPIRE2025.org.nz website from 2 August 2017