Tobacco Around the World: New Zealand

I spent a month in New Zealand earlier this year, and when I wasn’t out in the bush on various treks, I noticed how NZ handles smokers and smoking. (Note for trekkers, the Milford Track in the Southern Alps on the South Island is awesome.)  The most visible evidence of NZ tobacco control efforts is the packaging.  About a third of the front panel of cartons and individual packs are covered with full color, grotesque photos accompanied by warnings: “smoking causes gangrene,” “Your smoking can harm your kids,” “smoking blocks your arteries,” “smoking kills,” “smoking causes foul and offensive breath,” “smoking causes mouth cancer,” “smoking causes blindness,” “Over 80% of lung cancers are caused by smoking.” These warnings are also contained on the displays themselves. You can’t avoid them.

When I looked into NZ national policy on tobacco control, it was clear that the country is ahead of the US in many respects, and has some things to teach California as well.  But it faces challenges with smoking prevalence among the Maori (50%) and API (33%) populations.  The majority of people are of European descent with a smoking prevalence of about 20%.

All of their tobacco control laws are national, and NZ is committed to making tobacco prices go up along with other products, so their tobacco taxation is tied to inflation.  They have strong smoke free indoor air laws.  As early as the 1960’s and 70s, NZ banned tobacco advertising on TV, radio, billboards, and required warnings on tobacco packaging.  In the mid-1980s they launched a national tobacco control program and between 1985-90 had the fastest rate of decline in consumption of tobacco products in the developed world.  Fifteen years ago they had banned all tobacco sponsorship of sporting events and established a national youth decoy operation to check on sales to kids.  They have ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Yet despite all the progress, 5,000 New Zealanders die each year from tobacco use.  Tobacco use remains NZ’s biggest cause of death. 

I loved the country.  It is small, about one tenth the population of California; it is beautiful, and the people are really friendly.  About a quarter of kiwis are traveling internationally at any one time, so you’re bound to bump into them.

–Jack Nicholl

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