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Public health advocates in New Zealand want to promote Very Low Nicotine cigarettes (Image: A. Efimov)

Tobacco use remains the single biggest cause of preventable morbidity and mortality in New Zealand. Along with many other organisations, New Zealand Health Promotion Agency’s work is focused on helping achieve the Government’s goal that New Zealand be smokefree by 2025 (with smoking prevalence less than 5%) and to meet the national health target of “better help for smokers to quit.” By 2018 the agency aims at bringing prevalence down to around 10% of the national population and to at least halve the 2011 Māori and Pacific smoking rates.

In the country, smoking is prohibited in a range of places including indoor areas of work and licensed premises, as well as in the grounds and buildings of schools and early childhood centres (The Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act, 2003) in order to de-normalise smoking behaviour and prevent second-hand exposure. In parallel, a strong regulation is applied to vaping products.

“We believe that 22nd Century’s proprietary Very Low Nicotine cigarettes will be an invaluable public health tool; we stand ready to assist New Zealand in its progressive and pragmatic approach to a national nicotine reduction policy.” -H. Sicignano.
A press release on 22nd Century‘s web site, a plant biotechnology company that is a leader in tobacco harm reduction reveals that Public health advocates in New Zealand have contacted the company to advance their plans to market 22nd Century’s Very Low Nicotine cigarettes (VLNCs) in New Zealand.

 

A tax rate substantially lower than that of conventional cigarettes associated to the product may significantly contribute to the public health initiative that aims to achieve the smoke-free country goal.

Henry Sicignano, III, President and Chief Executive Officer at 22nd Century Group believes that reducing the nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels is a promising regulatory strategy to drastically reduce the harm caused by smoking.

A recent letter in the NZ Med J by Judy Li and co-authors [1] from the New Zealand Health Promotion Agency showed that approximately 2,600 adults would support (81% of those surveyed, 63% of smokers) the concept that “nicotine content of cigarettes should be reduced to very low levels so that they are less addictive“.

Reducing the nicotine content to make cigarettes less addictive

The idea of a nicotine reduction strategy has been proposed by Benowitz and Henningfield in 1994 and evolved until their endgame proposal article in 2013.

Dr Murray Laugesen, PHA's 2014 Public Health Champion, (Image pha.org.nz)
Dr Murray Laugesen, Health New Zealand Ltd., Public Health Champion 2014 (Image pha.org.nz)

Dr. Murray Laugesen, researcher on smoking policy and cigarettes has been advocating for a national nicotine policy for several years. His valuable actions on the battlefield of both the e-cigarette and the VLNCs may appear controversial. The active adjunct Professor is however open minded and considers the case of minorities very seriously. Let’s recall that major concerns arose with the extremely high smoking prevalence among the Māori ethny, probably one of the highest in the world. Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable death for Māori in New Zealand. Every year, approximately three times as many Māori die from lung cancer and other smoking related diseases as non-Māori.

More is expected on February 10 from Parliament when M. Laugesen defends this proposal and in February 19’s NZ Med J issue.


[1] Li J., Newcombe R., Walton D., 2016. Responses towards additional tobacco control measures: data from a population-based survey of New Zealand adults. New Zealand Medical Journal, Volume 129 Number 1428.

 

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