The Government will have to ban the sale of cigarettes if it wants to reach its goal of making New Zealand smoke-free by 2025, MPs have been told.
Public health advocates and academics also said the Government needs to more aggressively encourage less harmful alternatives like vaping and e-cigarettes to help people who have failed to quit smoking tobacco.
At a briefing on the Smokefree 2025 target at Parliament today, Hapai Te Hauora chief executive Lance Norman said there was no way the target would be reached on existing settings.
"Categorically, I am saying that upfront," he said.
Ministry of Health figures show nearly 16 per cent of New Zealanders smoke, including 35 per cent of Māori and 25 per cent of Pacific Islanders.
The overall rate has fallen from 20.1 per cent in 2006.
The smokefree target set by the Government requires smoking rates to fall below 5 per cent by 2025.
"We are nowhere near that," Norman said. "Saying it's a train wreck for Māori would be an understatement."
His organisation made three recommendations to MPs if they wanted to reach the goal:
• Urgently encourage harm minimisation products like e-cigarettes and vaping
• Ban the sale of cigarettes by 2025
• Spend more of the tobacco excise tax on promoting harm-minimisation products and supporting vulnerable families
Norman said there would not be 5000 deaths a year from smoking-related diseases if the product was not available.
"So our view is we should have an aggressive … strategy to get rid of the product."
It would require passing legislation almost immediately to outlaw the sale of cigarettes in 2025. The ban could be phased in, with cigarettes removed from dairies and liquor stores first and other sources later.
There are already moves underway to encourage e-cigarette use in New Zealand as way of reducing the harm of smoking, but Norman said they needed to be accelerated.
Some e-cigarettes were 95 per cent less harmful than conventional cigarettes and had a similar level of nicotine to a patch, he said.
He said the products should be promoted through public campaigns funded by tobacco taxes. Less than 3 per cent of the $2 billion annual tax take from tobacco sales was reinvested into public campaigns and support for people to quit smoking.
The Māori Affairs Select Committee held an inquiry in 2010 on tobacco use and the impact on Māori, and made 42 recommendations to the Government.
ASH programme manager Boyd Broughton said the previous Government had cherry-picked the most "politically palatable" recommendations and as a result little progress had been made since 2010 towards cutting smoking rates.
Smoking in NZ
• 600,000 adults (15.7 per cent) in NZ smoke, down from 20.1 per cent in 2006.
• 35 per cent of Māori adults smoke, down from 42 per cent in 2006
• 24 per cent of Pacific adults smoke, down from 27 per cent in 2006
• Smoking rates among younger adult are falling, but there has been no significant change for adults since 2011.
Source: Ministry of Health