New Zealand’s Ministry of Health is deeply committed to become a smoke-free country by 2025. Its Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan seeks to “eliminate the harm smoked tobacco products cause our communities by transforming Aotearoa New Zealand to a smoke-free nation by 2025.” New Zealand’s people have consistently put stock in this mission since December 2021.
New Zealand seeks to be a pioneer and the world’s first nation to eliminate cigarettes entirely within its borders. To protect its future generations, New Zealand proposes completely banning sale of tobacco products to anyone born after 2008. Although not without some apprehension, this move has received near unanimous praise and support, even among opposition parties. New Zealand’s hardline approach against smoking is not without precedent: in 2004, it was the first nation in the world to ban indoor smoking in workplaces and restaurants or bars, starting with its very own Old Parliament building to demonstrate leadership by example.
The New Zealand government also actively seeks participation from various groups and leaders to develop the plan thereby creating an inclusive, feedback-driven set of proposals. This level of cooperation with marginalised and indigenous groups is unheard of in efforts to reduce tobacco usage in a developed nation.
Smoking is the Leading Cause of Preventable Death in New Zealand
With an estimated 5,000 people dying from smoking-related diseases yearly, New Zealand’s tobacco harm reduction strategies have never been more important. Some key elements to their strategies include:
- All licensed indoor areas are to be smoke-free
- Strong text-based cigarette warning labels
- Cigarette price increases
- National stop-smoking ad campaigns
- Outlawing smoking in cars with children present
- Vaping products are offered as alternatives to smoking for adults only
While these policies are not unlike most developed nations, one does stand out: New Zealand’s stance on adult vaping is uniquely supportive. Even compared to the UK, a world leader in anti-smoking policies, New Zealand stands out remarkably.
New Zealand’s Stance on Smokefree Vaping Products
The Ministry of Health, with support from New Zealand’s Prime Minister, believes vaping supports adult smokers in their mission to quit smoking. Vaping is “significantly less harmful” than smoking and the New Zealand government seeks to improve publicly available facts about vaping. Again, this varies drastically from the United States, Ireland, and Australia where vaping facts are silenced or used for political purposes.
To be clear, the New Zealand government does not ignore the fact that teen vaping is a concern. It faces that concern head-on with its Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy. It has put in place strict regulations and penalties for sales to minors and regulates the manufacturing of vaping products. The Ministry of Health also clearly states there is no evidence that vaping is a “gateway” into smoking. Statistics paint the opposite picture with smoking among young people declining, even as vaping gains popularity.
Recognising increased smoking risks to Māori People and tailoring a policy to reduce their vulnerability
In 1984 New Zealand’s indigenous Māori men and women reached the highest rate of lung cancer from smoking in the world. This triggered a critical moment in New Zealand’s fight against smoking. Māori smoking rates continue to be nearly double of the overall New Zealand population. Specifically, Māori women constitute the highest rate of all New Zealand’s smoking residents. Because of this unique statistic, The Ministry of Health has specifically looked for insights to why Māori women smoke. It is actively evaluating new services and initiatives relating to these women’s lives and experiences in order to support them on their path to quitting.
Crossing the Finish Line
New Zealand is projected to reach a non-Māori smoking rate of approximately 8% by 2025 based on its current rate. The Maori population will hopefully reach a smoking rate of about 20% by 2025. New Zealand has made huge strides in improving public health in indigenous people compared to Australia, managing an impressive 6% reduction in Maori smoking rates within the span of a year where Australia needed 6 years to achieve 4.2%.
Both of these gains are remarkable and can be attributed to having effective, progressive anti-smoking policies that understands quitting smoking is not an all or nothing approach, and providing easy access to quit tools dramatically increase quit rates. New Zealand’s science-backed approach and willingness to pivot and update its strategies to incorporate e-cigarettes and other forms of tobacco harm reduction is truly in a league of its own, and is a shining example of how inclusive public health policies bring win-win scenarios for all stakeholders.