31 Mar 2021

Cancer Society launches petition to restrict number of tobacco sale outlets

6:38 am on 31 March 2021

The Cancer Society has today launched a petition calling for a significant reduction in the number of stores that are able to sell tobacco.

The cost of a packet of cigarettes is currently about $20.

More than half a million adults are thought to be smokers in New Zealand, and each year about 4000 people die from smoking-related issues (file image). Photo: 123RF

Between 3000 and 4000 shops sell tobacco in New Zealand, but the society would like that to drop as low as 200.

It said only drastic action can help the country reach its Smokefree 2025 goal, and combat health issues which kill up to 11 people a day.

More than half a million adults are thought to be smokers in New Zealand, and each year about 4000 people die from smoking-related issues.

Cancer Society advocacy and wellbeing manager Shayne Nahu said tobacco was fuelling many of the country's health issues.

"In tobacco itself there's a whole range of chemicals and additives in the stuff which is bad for you," Nahu said.

"What makes that more dangerous is the nicotine, which is the substance which creates the craving, so, tobacco, there's no good things about it."

Restricting access to tobacco would help to arrest some of those health issues, and steer New Zealand towards its smokefree 2025 goal, he said.

"We know it will work, it's been put in place overseas, and we also know the public is supportive of it.

"In 2018, the government did a survey where 68 percent, almost 70 percent of people supported making tobacco less available, so there's really strong public support."

That support even stretched to smokers, Nahu said.

University of Otago Department of Public Health professor Richard Edwards said limiting tobacco availability was crucial.

But support must be in place for those who were addicted to nicotine, he said.

"Most people who smoke want to stop smoking, most people have tried to stop smoking in the past year, so that's good," Edwards said.

"But because it's such an addictive product, it's difficult to stop smoking and support can help your chances of stopping.

"You really need to make quit clinics and quit lines and all those sorts of things available as part of this intervention.

"It's not just reducing the availability, you've got to help smokers as well."

In particular need of help were Māori and Pasifika communities, where access to support could be few and far between.

Hapai te Hauora chief executive Selah Hart said there needed to be targeted funding for communities when the government unveiled its plans for combating smoking.

"If we're going on the current trajectory we will leave our Māori and Pacific communities behind, so there needs to be not only a huge investment and I suppose a real definitive approach of targeting and enabling Māori and Pacific led solutions," Hart said.

"We need to talk about how we're partnering with these communities to make that significant change for themselves."

Tobacco was causing a huge amount of harm across New Zealand, and reducing its availability was a no-brainer, she said.

But the government must work fast to put better support in place for people who were escaping addiction, Hart - like Edwards - said.

"What we don't want to do is we don't want to cause more harm to those communities, so there needs to be a big investment into looking at a holistic approaching to supporting families to achieve wellbeing."

The Cancer Society said smoking was still the single most preventable cause of cancer and premature death in New Zealand, killing more people than road accidents, murder, suicide, alcohol and other drugs combined.

The government has signalled it will unveil a plan for reaching Smokefree 2025 as a priority, and the Cancer Society hopes the petition will spark radical legal moves around tobacco sale.

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