New Zealand, United States ponder cutting nicotine levels in cigarettes

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New Zealand has proposed anti-smoking policies that include reducing nicotine in cigarettes and outlawing their sale to anyone born after 2004. Meanwhile in America, President Joe Biden is also considering lowering nicotine in cigarettes – down to non-addictive levels.

Hāpai Te Hauora – Maori Public Health services – published an enthusiastic endorsement of the New Zealand government's plans in a statement on the New Zealand Doctor website.

The possible policy in the United States obliging lower nicotine levels in cigarettes could be accompanied by a proposal to ban menthols, according to The Wall Street Journal.


An end to cigarettes? New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation

New Zealand has announced a suite of proposals aimed at outlawing smoking for the next generation and moving the country closer to its goal of being smoke-free by 2025, wrote Tess McClure for The Guardian on 16 April 2021.

The plans include the gradual increase of the legal smoking age, which could extend to a ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004, making smoking effectively illegal for that generation.

Also under consideration was a significant reduction in the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, setting a minimum price for tobacco, and restricting the locations where tobacco and cigarettes can be sold.

“We need a new approach,” Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said last Thursday, announcing the changes. “About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach that goal [of Smokefree 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals were welcomed by a number of public health organisations. “This proposal goes beyond assisting people to quit,” Cancer Society chief executive Lucy Elwood said in a statement. She noted that the number of tobacco retailers was four times higher in low-income communities, where smoking rates were highest, The Guardian story continued.

“These glaring inequities are why we need to protect future generations from the harms of tobacco,” Elwood said. “Tobacco is the most harmful consumer product in history and needs to be phased out.”

Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, a long-term advocate for smoke-free Māori communities, said in a statement that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country”. Smoking rates are highest among Māori and Pasifika New Zealanders, and he said it was vital those communities had a voice in the process.

“For too long the tobacco industry has been addicting our people, fleecing them of their money before we have to bury them in urupa [burial grounds] all over this land. I am looking forward to truly making this a sunset industry in this corner of the world.”

El-Shadan Tautolo, a professor of public health at Auckland University of Technology, also called the plan “a turning point”. If it included enough resources and the right people, “we will be able to reach our communities who have been underserved and under-resourced for long enough,” he said.

But the plans also faced criticism for potential unintended consequences, including the prospect of bankruptcy for small ‘dairy’ store owners, and the possibility of an expanded black market for tobacco, according to The Guardian.

The government acknowledged  that this was a risk in its document outlining proposals: “Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” it said.

Smoking accounts for one in four cancer deaths in New Zealand, and around half a million New Zealanders smoke daily. The effects of that are most-felt among Māori, New Zealand’s indigenous people: Māori women have the country’s highest smoking rates, at about 30%.

Link below to the full story on The Guardian.


Government’s smoke-free action plan announced – Bold moves to end Tobacco Harm in Aotearoa begins now

Hāpai Te Hauora – Maori Public Health services – applauds the government and today’s announcement by Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall on their proposals for a Smoke-free Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan, said a media release from Hāpai Te Hauora dated 15 April 2021

The three key goals are to eliminate inequities in smoking rates and smoking related illness; increase the number of children and young people who remain smoke-free; and increase the number of people who successfully quit smoking.

Hāpai Te Hauora are pleased that within the first focus area to strengthen the tobacco control system, it is proposed to prioritise action to strengthen Māori governance of the tobacco control programme.

Hāpai CEO Selah Hart says she feels reassured by the announcement because it demonstrates a government committed to prioritise and address Smoke-free 2025: "I, like other Māori health leaders, was pleased to read the announcement of the plan today, particularly its focus on Māori governance.

“The success of this plan now hinges on its ability to centre and action the voices of those closest to tobacco harm – our Māori and Pasifika communities".

Following the work initiated over 10 years ago, as a part of the Māori Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into the Tobacco Industry in Aotearoa and the consequences of tobacco use for Maori,  advocates who were instrumental in this work, are praising this bold move.

"This long-awaited tobacco action plan will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country. To be a smoke-free nation by 2025 requires some radical changes to stifle and then eliminate tobacco from all our communities. This plan has the opportunity to put public health first and the tobacco industry out of business," stated Shane Bradbrook, Tobacco Control Advocate.

Link below to the full statement on the New Zealand Doctor website.


Biden administration considering rule to cut nicotine in cigarettes

A possible policy in the United States obliging the cutting of nicotine in cigarettes could be paired with a proposal to ban menthols, writes Jennifer Maloney in a behind-paywall article in The Wall Street Journal on 19 April 2021. Here are the first few paragraphs:

The administration of President Joe Biden is considering requiring tobacco companies to lower the nicotine in all cigarettes sold in the US to levels at which they are no longer addictive, according to people familiar with the matter.

Administration officials are considering the policy as they approach a deadline for declaring the administration’s intentions on another tobacco question: whether or not to ban menthol cigarettes.

The Food and Drug Administration must respond in court by 29 April to a citizens’ petition to ban menthols by disclosing whether the agency intends to pursue such a policy. The Biden administration is weighing whether to move forward on a menthol ban or a nicotine reduction in all cigarettes – or both, the people familiar with the matter said.


The Guardian story – An end to cigarettes? New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation (Open access)

Media release from Hāpai Te Hauora – Governments Smokefree Action Plan Announced – bold moves to end Tobacco Harm in Aotearoa begins now (Open access)

The Wall Street Journal story – Biden administration considering rule to cut nicotine in cigarettes (Restricted access)




Stricter tobacco controls in Europe could avert 1.65m lung cancer cases in 20 years

SAMRC to implement South Africa’s First Global Tobacco Adult Survey

Alcohol- and tobacco-free Europe envisaged in leaked Commission plan



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