Maori smoking rate expected to take 40-plus years to fall to low levels

By Martin Johnston

The year 2060 is when Maori men's smoking prevalence is predicted by Otago University researchers to fall to 5 per cent. Photo / Brendon O'Hagan
The year 2060 is when Maori men's smoking prevalence is predicted by Otago University researchers to fall to 5 per cent. Photo / Brendon O'Hagan

Today's young generation of Maori smokers will have grown to at least middle-age before the high-risk habit is a rarity for their race, according to projections published today.

The year 2060 is when Maori men's smoking prevalence is predicted by Otago University researchers to fall to 5 per cent. Maori women will have beaten them to that benchmark by four or five years.

Frederieke van der Deen and her colleagues based their model on the continuation of the current downward trend in smoking prevalence and the latest programme of 10 per cent annual increases in tobacco excise tax until 2020. Cigarettes, under that Government plan, are expected to rise in price from about $20 for a pack of 20 now, to $30.

It is widely accepted, including by Government officials, that on current plans New Zealand will not reach its "Smokefree 2025" target of smoking prevalence of less than 5 per cent.

The Otago University projections in today's NZ Medical Journal put the 2025 prevalence for Maori men at 17 per cent and women at 18 per cent. For non-Maori, the predictions are: men, 8 per cent, and women 6 per cent.

The researchers say "incremental measures" such as mandatory plain packaging of tobacco, which was approved by Parliament yesterday, smokefree cars and mass-media campaigns, "remain worthwhile".

New and "more substantive" policies should be explored, such as the "tobacco-free generation" idea, in which the legal age for tobacco sales would increase every year (from 18 at present), or reducing the number of tobacco vendors (from around 6000 currently).

The researchers note uncertainties around the relationship between increasing tobacco prices and declining demand. They say Increased access to electronic cigarettes might lead to larger smoking reductions than predicted.

Returning to an idea previously ruled out by the Government, they call for some of its tobacco tax take to be devoted to expanding quit-smoking support schemes and media campaigns targeting low-income smokers "who may be disproportionately affected by tax rises if they continue to smoke".

"Earmarking tobacco tax for tobacco control is already common practice in various jurisdictions overseas - eg, Iceland, California, Switzerland, Vietnam.

"Indeed, it seems unethical for the New Zealand Government to not provide smokers with more motivation to quit and more direct support to quit when it is dealing with a highly addictive substance."

The Herald has sought a response from the Associate Minister of Health Sam Lotu-Iiga.

The Government spends about $60 million a year on quit-smoking programmes and reaps in $1.5 billion a year in tobacco taxes. It is estimated that smokers cost about $1.9b more in health care than non-smokers.

- NZ Herald

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