14 Jan 2016

Govt warned on 'crazy' lack of smokefree plan

8:33 pm on 14 January 2016

Stop-smoking groups are warning the government will not reach its goal of a Smokefree New Zealand by 2025 unless it introduces a long-term plan.

The groups say what is needed is a strategy with enough measures to help people stop in the next decade - but that is yet to emerge.

Asthma and Respiratory Foundation medical director and Wellington Hospital respiratory physician Kyle Perrin

Kyle Perrin Photo: Supplied

Asthma and Respiratory Foundation medical director and Wellington Hospital respiratory physician Kyle Perrin said the government's aim to be smokefree by 2025 needed to be backed up with a cohesive plan, but it had not made that a priority.

"Those of us in the sector are really concerned about the lack of a firm plan to get there, that's critical and if we could do that that would be huge," he said.

"There's a really significant chance that goal won't be met with current policy settings."

The Ministry of Health had just released a draft document for discussion called the New Zealand Health Strategy but it was notable for the "absolute lack of any firm plans for smoking cessation and reduction in New Zealand, and for us that's crazy", he said.

It was disappointing many measures could have been included, such as more smoke-free public spaces and the passing of plain packaging legislation immediately, instead of languishing in the parliamentary process for more than a year since its first reading, Dr Perrin said.

Dr George Laking of Te Whakatohea

Dr George Laking of Te Whakatohea Photo: Supplied

Royal Australasian College of Physicians Māori Health Committee chairman George Laking said the impetus to become Smokefree by 2025 had stalled, and more preventative measures were needed.

"It's important for people to understand that health, in the wider sense, is about a lot more than simply providing services for when things go wrong.

"In fact far and away the best thing that you can do about health is prevent people becoming ill in the first place."

National Smokefree Working Group chairwoman Dr Jan Pearson

Jan Pearson Photo: Supplied

National Smokefree Working Group chairwoman Jan Pearson said it was bizarre there was no cohesive strategic or long-term funding plan.

"The focus of this Government seems to be on money going towards treatments rather than the longer term prevention strategies that we know are going to be more effective," she said.

Smokefree Coalition executive director Prudence Stone said the government has had since 2010 to introduce many of the 42 recommendations on tobacco control made by the Māori Affairs Select Committee but had implemented only eight.

There was a slowing decline in smoking rates, despite it being the country's biggest killer; the daily smoking rate had remained virtually unchanged since the New Zealand 2013 Census, at 15 percent, Dr Stone said.

"We are always very hopeful that we can turn the statistics around. Right now the decline is certainly not fast enough for us to feel confident."

The Ministry of Health did not address directly the criticism that there was no reference to a stop-smoking plan in its draft of the New Zealand Health Strategy.

However, it said in a statement it was in the process of redeveloping cessation services to better meet the needs of smokers, particularly Māori and Pasifika, and that work was due to be completed by July.

"Activities to meet the target include significant tobacco excise increases, most recently on January 1 2016; enhanced health promotion media campaigns; continued clinical focus through Health Targets; the progression of 'plain packaging' and boosted cessation services," it said.

"The government has previously announced its intention to develop a more detailed roadmap towards meeting the 2025 goal. The ministry's work on this will continue."

New Zealand First MP Pita Paraone said a 2025 Smokefree New Zealand was unrealistic, unless recommendations by the Māori Affairs Select Committee targeting Māori smokers were implemented.

In 2011 the percentage of Māori smoking daily was 37.7 percent.

In 2015 it's 35.5 percent, a decline of only 2.2 percent and nearly three times that of non-Māori.

Mr Paraone, a member of the select committee, was disappointed by the latest results and said more needed to be done if New Zealand was serious about becoming smokefree.

"I think there needs to be more contractor arrangements with the Maori health organisations because I think that in that area much gains have been made because the services have been delivered by Maori," he said.

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