Smoking among New Zealand 14- and 15-year-olds has dipped below 3 per cent for the first time, as health officials push for new legislation to help teens kick the habit.
A survey released today by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) reveals that Maori girls aged between 14 and 15 continue to have the highest daily smoking rates over non-Maori boys and girls since the poll's inception in 2000.
Maori girls are three times more likely to smoke every day than either girls or boys of other ethnicities. More than 90 per cent of the Maori girl smokers are from low and medium socio-economic areas.
Ash director Stephanie Erick said she was disappointed the overall decline in smoking among 14- and 15-year-olds was not as big as expected. In 2012, it sat at 11.14 per cent, before a big drop in 2013 to 8.53 per cent. It is 7.17 per cent in the latest, 2014 results.
Mrs Erick said young Maori girls were again over-represented and the key was catching them young.
"That's something that's really important for me because we know that the smoking rates for pregnant women is too high.
"It all starts with the young girls, because if we're not addressing it earlier on then it just carries on into their childbearing years."
Mrs Erick said it was time the Government implemented new legislation around plain packaging.
Quitline chief executive Paula Snowden backed Ash's call for standardised packaging, along with continued tax increases, which she agreed helped inspire people to quit.
But Dr Marewa Glover, of End Smoking NZ, said the focus should stay on increasing taxes as price had proven to put people off.
"The price is the key driver, it's the most successful policy or effective policy we have for driving down smoking rates both among children and parents."
As for standardised packaging, she believed the Government was still scared of legal action by the tobacco industry and was awaiting rulings from overseas court cases which weren't due out until mid-2016.