Smoking among young teen students appears close to being stubbed out, a new survey suggests.
New research announced by Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa today indicated that, for the first time, fewer than two per cent of Kiwi teens aged 14 to 15 now smoked daily.
The data, from a survey of 29,000 Year 10 students carried out each year by Action for Smokefree 2025 (ASH), showed just 1.9 per cent smoke on a daily basis.
"That's a dramatic drop from the 15.2 per cent of students 20 years ago who said they smoked on a daily basis," Salesa said.
"More than 81 per cent of those surveyed haven't smoked at all – not even a few puffs."
The research also found just 1.8 per cent of students used e-cigarettes or vaped each day, marking a slight drop from 1.9 per cent in 2017.
Less than 0.5 per cent of students who had never smoked vaped daily.
Salesa said the survey was good news – but she acknowledged more work was need to achieve equity among Kiwi teens.
"Almost 6 per cent of Māori girls who took part in the survey tell us they smoke daily and while that rate has decreased, it's still higher than the overall rate of 1.9 per cent," she said.
"That needs to change and the gaps need to close."
The Government has announced amendments to current smoking laws that will support smokers to switch to significantly less harmful alternatives.
Plans included improved access to quality vaping and smokeless tobacco products, and improving publicly available information on vaping.
The moves drew praise from a visiting expert, Australian Drug law Reform Foundation president Professor Alex Wodak.
"New Zealand's policymakers are taking a glass-half-full approach to vaping and are very clear the proposed legislation is an opportunity to reduce the harms of smoking," Wodak said.
"This is in contrast to many countries that approach vaping as a problem, not an opportunity."
ASH chairman, Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole, emphasised that the opportunity to help people switch from smoking to vaping also needed balance against any unwanted effect like youth uptake, or poor-quality vaping products entering New Zealand.
"To date, our surveys suggest non-smoking youth have been very unlikely to take up vaping in New Zealand compared to those who already smoke," Beaglehole said.
"We have the opportunity to get a win-win on vaping if we can continue this trend while shifting smokers to safer nicotine by providing meaningful information on risk, making safer alternates much more affordable and protecting people with sensible product safety standards."
Salsea, however, noted that, while there was still no evidence to suggest vaping was a gateway to cigarette smoking, it was important to her that children be protected from taking up either.
Whether New Zealand's ultimate goal of being smokefree by 2025 was reached remained far from certain - if highly unlikely.
A recent study in the New Zealand Medical Journal found another 17,200 Kiwis would need to quit smoking each year until 2025 if the country was to reach the goal of less than five per cent of the population smoking daily by then.
That figure was more than double the current quit rate.
It was estimated that, following the current trend, 17.4 per cent of Māori and 7.2 per cent of non-Māori people would be smoking in 2025.
But Salsea said she was focused on developing an action plan to achieve the 2025 goal.
"It is my intention that a full suite of possible actions is considered, and that a draft action plan will be available for public consultation by the end of this year."
Elsewhere in proposed changes, the Government planned to ban smoking – and vaping – in cars when children under 18 were present.
It had also opted for a 10 per cent hike in the tobacco excise this year.