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Repeal of smokefree laws means thousands will die, researchers warn

The repeal of Aotearoa’s world-leading smokefree legislation means thousands of New Zealanders will continue to die needlessly from smoking-related diseases, researchers at the University of Otago, Wellington, warn.

The Government today introduced legislation to repeal the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act. The legislation was hailed around the world when it was passed by Parliament in December 2022, for its creation of a smokefree generation. The legislation ended the sale of tobacco to anyone born after 2008, preventing tobacco companies from recruiting young people as the next generation of smokers and mandated the removal of nicotine from smoked tobacco, minimising the potential for addiction.

Researchers from the University’s ASPIRE Aotearoa Research Centre branded the repeal as “shameful”, saying it lacked evidence, logic and popular support.

Centre Co-Director Professor Janet Hoek says the repeal is particularly ironic given the coalition government agreements commit the three political parties to taking an evidence-based approach to decision making.

“Repealing the legislation flies in the face of robust research evidence; it ignores measures strongly supported by Māori leaders and it will preserve health inequities. Large-scale clinical trials and modelling studies show the legislation would have rapidly increased the rates of quitting among smokers and made it much harder for young people to take up smoking. We know from robust modelling that the business-as-usual approach the Government wants to revert to will not see smoking prevalence among Māori fall below five per cent for several decades.

“The Government’s plan to introduce new nicotine products will mean young people remain easy prey for tobacco companies.”

Fellow Co-Director Associate Professor Andrew Waa says: “Implementing this legislation would have reduced smoking prevalence to less than five per cent for all population groups, and brought profound health and wellbeing benefits for everyone.”

“It is devastating that we are no longer poised to achieve our goal of a Smokefree Aotearoa. One death from this toxic product is too many. Now we’re faced with the prospect of thousands of unnecessary deaths every year. Māori, in particular, will continue to be harmed.”

Associate Professor Waa says recent opinion polls have shown strong public support for the legislation across the political spectrum.

“We know young people want to see the legislation implemented, so too do the general public, people who have recently quit smoking, and people who smoke. It is inexplicable that the Government does not want to protect young people or those who smoke.”

Professor Hoek says rushing the repeal through urgency, and not allowing a conscience vote, select committee scrutiny, or a Waitangi Tribunal application to be heard, gives credence to concerns that tobacco companies are influencing Government policy.

“This legislation is not being driven by evidence, it is not based on logic, and it has no public mandate. People are entitled to ask who, or what, is driving this retrograde policy change.”

 

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