Yearly increases of 20 per cent in tobacco excise tax will be needed to achieve the Government's target of ultra-low smoking prevalence by 2025, if price rises remain the state's main policy lever, according to new Christchurch research.

Writing in today's New Zealand Medical Journal, Dr Murray Laugesen and Professor Randolph Grace, say that if the series of annual 10 per cent excise increases is not renewed after the last of the legislated rises, which is scheduled for next New Year's Day, adult smoking prevalence will fall only to 10.2 per cent in 2025. This is shown as plot number 1 on the graph below of the researchers' potential policy scenarios.

The Government's target is that New Zealand will be largely smokefree by 2025, which is widely interpreted as meaning less than 5 per cent.

Laugesen's previous analysis has shown that annual 10 per cent excise increases were associated with a reduction in adult cigarette consumption of 6.3 per cent a year from 2010 to 2013.


He and Grace estimate that if Parliament does not vote in more excise rises after next January's, then smoking will in subsequent years decline by only 2.16 per cent annually, based on 2003 to 2009, years during which real excise was not increased.

The researchers mix and match other potential policies: annual excise increases of 10, 15 and 20 per cent, the introduction of low-nicotine cigarettes, and the legalisation of New Zealand sales of electronic cigarettes (ECs) containing nicotine.

The lowest 2025 smoking prevalence in their model - 2 per cent - comes with 20 per cent annual excise rises and legalised e-cigarette sales.

"Once the 2025 goal is attained," they write, "legislation may be needed to phase out the import and sale of tobacco products altogether."

Separately, Laugesen urged the Ministry of Health to consider developments in England on the use of e-cigarettes.

The Public Health England agency this week released an independent review in which one expert said e-cigarettes "could be a game-changer in public health". Another said smokers who switched to "vaping" on e-cigarettes "remove almost all the risks smoking poses to their health".

The agency said the review "provides reassurance that very few adults and young people who have never smoked are becoming regular e-cigarette uses - less than 1 per cent in each group".

"The review ... suggests that e-cigarettes may be contributing to falling smoking rates among adults and young people."