“Back in 2011 when Smokefree 2025 was launched, it was viewed as doable albeit requiring serious and deliberate government programmes and intervention. However, nine years on we’re still sadly miles off,” said AVCA co-director Nancy Loucas, in a recent press release.

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill

She had pointed out that the recently implemented Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill, would be counterproductive to achieving this goal. “A huge opportunity has been missed to make risk-reduced vaping products more accessible to smokers in order to reach the SmokeFree 2025 goal set by the government,” she said.

When earlier this year the Ministry of Health was reviewing submissions on its draft vaping regulations, the local Cancer Society had launched a petition to drastically reduce the number of tobacco stockists. However, says Loucas, any tobacco related actions must dovetail with the country’s smokefree action plan.

“Finalising the vaping regulations and the smokefree action plan must not been done in silos. The two are intrinsically linked, with vaping an effective tool towards Aotearoa achieving the smokefree goal. It should be regulated proportionately.”

“As the most effective smoking cessation tool in history, vaping has been key to reducing our national smoking rate in the past decade. Going forward, encouraging smokers to switch to much safer and less expensive vaping products is absolutely critical to achieving smokefree,” said Loucas.

Achieving Smokefree 2025 is unlikely

While in line with other experts in the field, Loucas recognises that achieving Smokefree 2025 is unlikely, she believes that not lost with the Associate Health Minister elevating it as a priority workstream since her appointment late last year. “Dr Verrall is a public health expert and a strong proponent to getting Smokefree 2025 back on track. She knows it will require some drastic measures and has the knowledge and determination to make this 2011 goal finally happen,” said Loucas.

AVCA believes the discussion paper on a draft plan to meet New Zealand’s Smokefree 2025 aspirations, needs to focus on the availability of safer alternatives as a means to reduce combustible tobacco use.

“It makes sense to reduce the availability of tobacco products, but it makes no sense to reduce the availability of vaping products. The current plan to only allow specialist, registered vape stores to sell a wide range of popular adult flavours is bonkers.”

“If we want to avoid Kiwis returning to cigarettes then the Government’s plan to limit vape flavours needs to be purged before it comes into play. We expect this contentious issue, and ways to ensure more smokers can successfully switch to vaping, will feature as distinct discussion areas in the Government’s paper out soon,” she says.

THR experts should be involved in the shaping of the smokefree action plan

AVCA also hopes that authorities will include experts in tobacco harm reduction (THR) in the shaping of the smokefree action plan. “To achieve smokefree all the right incentives and interventions will need to be rolled out. If we don’t take big steps, then New Zealand won’t be smokefree for nearly two more decades and Maori won’t be for another four decades. So, it’s now or never.”

Nancy Loucas says if the smokefree discussion paper doesn’t adequately deal with the Government’s vaping strategy and regulations, then local ministers should. “2021 is arguably the most critical year from Smokefree 2025. We have hugely consequential vaping regulations being finalized and a smokefree action plan being formulated. Commanding an absolute majority, this Government can be bold. We now wait with bated breath,” she concluded.

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