The decrease in smoking rates is larger than usual according to the latest New Zealand government health survey 2020/2021. Smoking rates have decreased across all ethnic groups, and for Māori adults, it’s down by 6.4%. In 2019/2020 28.7% of Māori adults were smoking, that figure is now sitting at 22.3%.
Director for ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Deborah Hart says all the work that has been put into smoke-free initiatives are kicking in including plain packaging, and taxes on cigarettes, but that in itself is not enough.
“We now have the evidence that vaping is helping decrease smoking rates,” says Hart.
Vaping rates in Aotearoa have increased by 3.5% in 2020/2021. In 2015/2016, these rates sat at just 0.9 %. Today, 6.2% of adults are using e-cigarettes daily. A study carried out between ASH and the University of Auckland showed that while some young people are experimenting with vaping, the daily use of an e-cigarette is occurring overwhelmingly in existing smokers.
“What we’re seeing is people transition from very harmful cigarette smoking to a much less harmful product in e-cigarettes or vaping, and that’s been going on for a few years and we’re going to continue to see that I would think,” says Hart.
Youth smoking statistics are also down to 8.1% from 12.9% in the previous year. Despite the overall decrease in smoking cigarettes in Aotearoa, Māori women still have the highest smoking rate currently sitting at 25.8%.
Hāpai Te Hauora Acting CEO Jason Alexander says there are a number of programmes that offer targeted, culturally appropriate services to people who smoke, which provide a whānau ora, wrap-around approach addressing the many social determinants of health, such as poverty, stress, housing etc, that are contributing to the sustained addiction to smoking.
“We have seen pilot services such as the Heru and Hapū Māmā kaupapa delivered by Kairua, which offers antenatal support to hapū māmā from a Te Ao Māori viewpoint, an initiative that has garnered many successful quit attempts to help māmā, pēpi and their whānau be smokefree,” says Alexander.
According to Māori behavioural scientist and leading expert on tobacco, vaping and smoking cessation, Dr Marewa Glover, people who smoke are switching to vaping.
“The Ministry of Health 2020/2021 health survey data showed that there is an almost exact correspondence between the drop in daily smoking in Māori generally and in Māori men, and the rise in daily vaping,” says Glover.
E-cigarette use, according to the latest government health survey, was highest in young people aged 18-24 years old (15.3%) and Māori 12.5%.
“The inhalation of smoke which is created in the burning process is what causes the diseases and early deaths caused by smoking tobacco. The focus should be on helping people to stop smoking,” says Glover.
“We have much more to do as a nation if we want all ethnic groups to reach our Smokefree2025 goal. This will require an intensive review of where resourcing and activities are occurring, and if successful, how we scale those up accordingly,” adds Hāpai Te Hauora’s Jason Alexander.