Taking action on smoking and health
A leading researcher from New Zealand, where a world-leading action plan is aiming to eliminate tobacco smoking, is challenging the Scottish Government to be as equally bold, innovative and ambitious in leading Scotland towards becoming a tobacco-free generation.
Professor Richard Edwards from the University of Otago, Wellington, who is Co-Director of the ASPIRE 2025 Research Centre which performs research to inform achieving the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Goal, is urging Holyrood to adopt radical approaches in its refreshed Tobacco Action Plan which is being drafted for publication in 2023.
Overall smoking prevalence in New Zealand presently sits at 11 per cent, less than the current rate of 17 per cent in Scotland, but prevalence remains high at 26 per cent in the Māori community. A rapid decrease of Māori smoking prevalence is needed for the country’s target of reducing the smoking rate in all of New Zealand’s population groups to less than five per cent by 2025. In Scotland, a similar dramatic reduction from the present smoking rate of 32 per cent is needed in communities experiencing multiple-deprivation, if the country’s goal of a smoking rate no higher than five per cent is to be achieved by 2034.
The New Zealand Action Plan has a package of measures including enhanced targeted smoking cessation support for Māori and Pacific people, as well as pioneering proposals such as minimising the amount of nicotine in smoked tobacco products and limiting the sale of these products to a small number of approved retailers.
A Bill going through the New Zealand parliament will give the government powers to massively restrict the amount of nicotine in cigarettes so that they are no longer addictive. A further measure will permit the government to greatly reduce the availability of cigarettes and tobacco, by allowing them to be sold in only around 300 approved shops, down from the current 6,000 local convenience stores, supermarkets and petrol stations that are particularly prominent in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Professor Richard Edwards said: “Smoking represents an ongoing public health emergency and is an enormous, unacceptable and avoidable contributor to health inequity in New Zealand, just as it is in Scotland. Our Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan is a comprehensive strategy which has real potential to be successful if implemented in full, as no single measure will be sufficient to achieve our smoke-free goal on its own.
“However, the policy to remove virtually all nicotine from cigarettes will be critical as a rapidly expanding evidence base suggests it will make smoked tobacco products much less appealing and no longer addictive for young people and people who currently smoke.
“Greatly reducing availability of cigarettes in so many shops is also very important and the tobacco industry’s strong opposition to the key measures in the Action Plan indicates just how effective it is likely to be. Their opposition demonstrates how the proposals, which research suggests will result in swift and profound reductions in smoking, threaten tobacco companies’ profits by setting a strong precedent for the elimination of smoking.
“I wish the Scottish Government well in developing and implementing their new Tobacco Action Plan for 2023, and urge them to reject a ‘business as usual’ approach aimed at achieving slow, incremental progress. I’d encourage Scotland to be brave, bold and inspired by the New Zealand experience to consider more radical measures to achieve the tobacco-free generations both our countries are striving for.”
Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland, said: “Tobacco remains the biggest preventable killer of people in Scotland, causing 9,000 deaths and 100,000 hospitalisations each year, and it is clear that we need to progress quicker towards creating healthier environments and make person-centred support more accessible for adults and children to move away from tobacco completely.
“It is inspiring to hear Professor Edwards describe New Zealand’s ground-breaking approaches. We should be equally determined and forward thinking in Scotland to take on the profiteering tobacco industry and its lethal products.
“In Scotland, 9,617 businesses are listed on the Register of Tobacco and Nicotine Vapour Product Retailers as selling tobacco products. We need to substantially reduce the availability of these products, especially in our most deprived communities where they contribute to severe health inequity. Taking the addictive nicotine out of cigarettes is also a measure that merits strong consideration in building a generation free from tobacco.
“The Scottish Government’s new Tobacco Action Plan must be ambitious and innovative in taking urgent, decisive action to eradicate the ongoing carnage cigarettes and tobacco companies are inflicting on people’s lives in Scotland’s communities.”
ASH Scotland encourages people aiming to quit smoking to call Quit Your Way Scotland on 0800 84 84 84 or visit www.quityourway.scot. Alternatively, free person-centred support is available via GPs, local stop smoking services or community pharmacies.
Action on Smoking & Health (Scotland) (ASH Scotland) is a registered Scottish charity (SC 010412) and a company limited by guarantee(Scottish company no 141711). The registered office is 8 Frederick Street, Edinburgh EH2 2HB.
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