The End Game: Making New Zealand Smokefree

In 2011, the New Zealand Government responded to recommendations made by the Māori Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee in their Inquiry into the tobacco industry.

The Government adopted the goal of: “reducing smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels, thereby making New Zealand essentially a smoke-free nation by 2025.”

The Government’s response also used the term ‘aspirational,’ suggesting that the Government’s commitment to achieving the goal may not be very strong.

It is a big challenge. The current national smoking prevalence in New Zealand remains around 20 percent. The prevalence among Māori (indigenous peoples) is more than double that figure.

However, the tobacco control and public health communities in New Zealand believe, however aspirational it may be, the Government’s commitment to the 2025 smoke-free goal is a major step forward. We are working hard to ensure that smoke-free 2025 aspiration becomes a reality.

Measures in Place

Many tobacco control measures are already in place. These include complete bans on marketing and sponsorship, graphic health warnings, relatively high levels of tobacco excise, national smokefree legislation for indoor workplaces, mass media campaigns (albeit at low levels), a national Quitline, and other smoking cessation support services.

Smoke-free prisons were introduced in 2011 and tobacco point of sale displays in retail settings will be removed in July 2012.

More tax increases are in place for the next four years. Further, the government has announced its intention to consider introducing plain packaging, following the excellent example set in Australia.

Proposed Measures

Health researchers have also proposed more radical measures. One such measure is a ‘sinking lid’ on the importation of tobacco (a practical proposition in New Zealand due to our geographical isolation and secure borders).

A National Tobacco Control Working Group is providing expert advice from across the tobacco control research and practice sector and has prepared a strategy outlining steps to achieving the 2025 goal. Read more about ASH New Zealand.

Challenges Ahead

However, as always, there is much to do. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the enduring disparities in smoking prevalence, which is much higher among the indigenous Māori population and Pacific communities.

We must aim to achieve 2025. We must achieve it for all sectors of the population, particularly those most affected by smoking and the resulting epidemic of death and disease.

In addition, we need to turn the 2025 goal into an active social movement that reflects the strong public support for more progressive tobacco control measures.

Such a movement would help politicians see the end game goal as not merely aspirational, but imperative.