Health Coalition Aotearoa expresses disappointment over smoke-free laws repeal

The coalition calls for the full implementation of the laws

Health Coalition Aotearoa expresses disappointment over smoke-free laws repeal

The Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA), an organisation concerned with addressing the health prevention gap in Aotearoa, has expressed its disappointment regarding the new coalition government’s plan to repeal smoke-free laws.

New Zealand’s smoke-free laws amendment notably included the measures of denicotisation of cigarettes, reduction of retailers, and the banning of tobacco sales for the next generation.

The coalition government’s move to repeal the smoke-free amendment will remove the measures before March 2024, according to Nicola Willis, the new finance minister, as reported in an article by The Guardian. The revenue gathered from cigarette sales will go towards the coalition’s tax cuts.

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“The Coalition Government’s Smoke-free Amendment repeal will cost thousands of lives and have the greatest effect on Māori – who have the highest rates of smoking (19%),” said Lisa Te Morenga, HCA co-chair, in the organisation’s news release.

“This is major loss for public health, and a huge win for the tobacco industry – whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives,” said Boyd Swinburn, HCA co-chair.

Swinburn noted that the move was astounding since Shane Reti, the incoming minister of health, had previously expressed his support for denicotisation. The smoke-free amendments were also highly supported by the health sector and the New Zealand public.

“The National Party campaigned on ‘better health outcomes’ and said it would ‘relentlessly focus on results’ – but this goal would be completely undermined by the repeals,” said Swinburn.

Tobacco was among the causes of almost one-third of the preventable health losses in New Zealand along with alcohol and unhealthy food consumption.

A recent study found that if fully implemented, the smoke-free laws will allow the health system to save around $1.3 billion in costs over the next 20 years. It will also reduce the all-cause mortality rates by 22 percent for women and 9 percent for men.

“Turning the tide on harmful products that are entrenched in society cannot be done by individuals, or even communities,” said Te Morenga. “It takes good – and brave – population-level policies.”

The HCA provided a briefing to the incoming parliament which detailed prevention measures for its first 100 and 1000 days. It included the following:

First 100 days:

  • Initiate consultation with Māori and Iwi providers about how to ensure better outcomes for Māori health, following the disestablishment of Te Aka Whai Ora
  • Urgently strengthen youth vaping regulations
  • With Māori leadership, implement the tobacco control measures for Smokefree 2025 (denicotinisation, retailer numbers reduction, and smokefree generation)
  • Increase the alcohol levy to replace alcohol sponsorship of sports and events for a period of five years
  • Commit to develop a national food and nutrition strategy within the term of Government
  • Commit to baseline funding of Ka Ora, Ka Ako – the free healthy school lunches programme
  • Instruct the Ministry of Health to develop and design a sugary drinks industry levy

First 1000 days:

  • Achieve Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal for all population groups
  • Implement effective regulations to reduce youth vaping
  • Achieve a reduction in alcohol harm with new, Te Tiriti-centred alcohol laws
  • Expand Ka Ora, Ka Ako to 50 percent of all schools
  • Achieve a reduction in consumption of sugary drinks and reformulation of beverages with a 20-percent sugary drinks levy
  • Progressively increase the annual investment in prevention (public health) to five percent of the health budget within the term of Government

The HCA still welcomed agreements targeting the continued prevention of youth vaping. The HCA said that it would continue monitoring progress on the new proposed regulations.

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