The rate of smokers being offered help in quitting by their health providers has fallen significantly in the past two years, according to an official measure.

Smoke-free campaigners say it's an incredibly disappointing trend and the Opposition is accusing the Government of losing focus on health targets.

But ministers say smoking rates are still falling and other clinical checks are taking priority.

New data published by the Ministry of Health shows while in the middle of 2017 about 89 per cent of patients registered as smokers had been offered help by health professionals in the previous 15 months, that figure had slumped to 82.9 per cent by September last year.


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A year ago, nine of the country's DHBs were hitting a target set by the previous Government to help 90 per cent of patients who were smokers, while only three – West Coast, Whanganui and Wairarapa – met that goal in the most recent figures.

The data doesn't include the total number of patients who took up help.

Health Minister David Clark in 2018 announced he had asked health officials to come up with a new set of measurements to replace the previous Government's set of six – which include the smoking target - saying they created perverse incentives.

But those replacements have still not been finished and the ministry continues to publish the results against the old goals.

National Party health spokesman Michael Woodhouse said the smoking figures showed the Government had lost focus on measurable goals and the results were flowing on to the performance of the health system.

"You'd think if measures were important, at some point in a 15-month period those smokers would be given the advice," Woodhouse said.

"Not only is it not happening, in some areas there's been dramatic reductions. Those should be setting off alarm bells."

Government Minister Phil Twyford says the important statistic is that smoking rates are still falling. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Government Minister Phil Twyford says the important statistic is that smoking rates are still falling. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Woodhouse said the Government had been invisible on smoke cessation efforts, despite a goal of getting the country smoke-free by 2025 remaining in place.

Smoke-free campaign group ASH's director, Deborah Hart, said the country was not on target to become smoke free in five years' time.

"If DHBs are reaching less people, that's terribly disappointing," she said.

"There's a whole lot of services that need to be offered and DHBs are part of that."

Hart said the Government needed to commit significantly more money from tobacco tax revenue to help quit services and DHBs.

But Government Minister Phil Twyford said the figure didn't reflect the actual results.

"The really important measure are the rates of smoking and they continue to decline," he said.

"Rates of smoking have among adults declined to 12.5 per cent, down from 18 per cent in 2006-07."

Twyford said advice from the Ministry of Health suggested as other clinical checks, such as mental health, became important and new tools to help quitting became available – such as vaping and more nicotine gum being funded by Pharmac – some clinics were prioritising the question less.

The Government was finalising new, "more meaningful" measures for DHBs, Twyford said.

Smoking is estimated to kill about 5000 people in New Zealand each year.