Northland health promotion and smokefree workers have welcomed plans to put tobacco into plain packs, but the Government may have a fight on its hands to implement the idea.
The Government confirmed this week it is to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.
However, Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said the Government was aware of the legal risks from tobacco companies, and would wait until legal cases were completed in Australia before the policy was introduced here.
Manaia Primary Health Organisation health promotion manager Ngaire Rae said the PHO strongly supported the plan to introduce plain packaging, with tobacco a major cause of health problems in Northland.
"About 26 per cent of people in Northland smoke compared with 19 per cent for New Zealand and the smoking rate is extremely high for [Northland] Maori at about 55 per cent," she said.
"Partly as a consequence of this Northland Maori die about 10 years earlier than non-Maori. This has a devastating effect on our communities so any measure we can take to reduce the uptake of smoking must be implemented."
She said tobacco packaging is effectively advertising so if it is removed it will help prevent people, particularly young people, from starting smoking.
"Most people start smoking when they are under 18 and then regret the decision," Ms Rae said.
"Tobacco companies rely on young people starting to keep their business going.
"Tobacco smoking, if used as tobacco companies intend, will kill one out of every two people who smoke."
Northland District Health Board smokefree co-ordinator Bridget Rowse said while there was no silver bullet to get people to quit, the move to plain packaging was part of a multi-pronged approach, which also included 10 per cent price hikes in each of the past three years.
Ms Rowse said all Northland's district councils had introduced smokefree playgrounds and parks while the Whangarei District Council had included a requirement for smokefree zones in its recent alfresco dining policy.
The Government has warned legal challenges over plain packaging on cigarettes could cost taxpayers up to $6 million. Changes would not be implemented here until the conclusion of a World Trade Organisation dispute over Australia's introduction of plain packaging.
A DYING HABIT:
Tobacco is related to a quarter of all deaths in Northland and 47 per cent of all Maori deaths in the region and is a major factor in the huge difference of 14.9 years in life expectancy between Maori and non-Maori in the region.
In Northland, smoking-related hospitalisations are 1.5 times higher than the national rate.
If they quit, an average smoker will be saving well over $2000 a year.
Free support is available at general practices throughout the region for people who want to quit.
People can also ring Quitline on 0800 778 778 or contact their local Aukati Kai Paipa service for free face-to-face support - 0800 942 628.