Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa released new data showing that daily smoking among students (aged 14-15) has dropped below 2% for the first time. Only 1.9% of students reported daily smoking.
Since 2015, the survey has also asked about youth vaping. The latest results found that only 1.8% of students use e-cigarettes or vape daily. A slight decrease from 1.9% in 2017. Less than 0.5% of students who had never smoked vape daily.
Minister Salesa is speaking to a gathering today of New Zealand and international experts who have come together for an inaugural policy forum on vaping and e-cigarettes. The forum was organised in response to government plans to improve access to vaping products, while protecting children from the risk associated with them.
"This is the first time the rate has fallen below 2 per cent. That’s a dramatic drop from the 15.2 per cent of students twenty years ago who said they smoked on a daily basis," says Jenny Salesa.
"More than 81 per cent of those surveyed haven’t smoked at all - not even a few puffs."
"This is really good news but we still have more work to do to achieve equity amongst all New Zealand teenagers."
"Almost 6 per cent of Māori girls who took part in the survey tell us they smoke daily and while that rate has decreased, it’s still higher than the overall rate of 1.9%."
The Minister’s plans for tobacco harm reduction have been met with praise from vising expert Professor Alex Wodak, President of the Australian Drug law Reform Foundation who said "New Zealand’s plans to legalise vaping and less harmful tobacco products are among the most progressive in the world."
Speaking at an event at Parliament, Dr Alex Wodak, President of the Australian Drug law Reform Foundation said that New Zealand’s plans to legalise vaping and less harmful tobacco products are among the most progressive in the world.
Dr Wodak said: "Vaping is less 5% of the harm of smoking cigarettes. There is an increasing body of evidence that these harm reduction products are helping vast numbers of smokers to get off tobacco, and substantially reduce their risk of chronic disease and deaths from smoking".
The government has announced amendments to current smoking laws that will support smokers to switch to significantly less harmful alternatives. Plans include improved access to quality vaping and smokeless tobacco products and improve publicly available information on vaping.
Speaking to an audience of policymakers, NGOs, health professionals and officials, Wodak praised New Zealand for their proposed approach to vaping.
"New Zealand’s policy makers are taking a glass half full approach to vaping and are very clear the proposed legislation is an opportunity to reduce the harms of smoking. This is in contrast to many countries who approach vaping as a problem, not an opportunity".
Wodak, who is based in Sydney, Australia gave his own country as an example of a country getting it wrong: "Australia has put over-zealous controls on vaping products that essentially ban them. The danger of this approach is that it further protects cigarette smoking because people are denied access to a far, far safer alternative".
"Many governments and regulators around the world would benefit from looking at the evidence based, and compassionate approach to tobacco harm reduction lead by New Zealand" concluded Wodak.
The event in parliament is hosted by Associate Minister Jenny Salesa and jointly organised by ASH, Hāpai te Hauora and Tala Pasifika.
Hāpai Tobacco Control manager, Mihi Blair said: "It is the nicotine in cigarettes that addicting people, and the smoke that kills. Given a third of wahine Māori still smoke, we need to take the opportunity vaping has to replace many of thing people like about smoking, but with a fraction of the harm.
ASH Chairman, Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole emphasised that the opportunity to help people switch from smoking to vaping also needed balance against any unwanted effect like youth uptake, or poor-quality vaping products entering New Zealand.
"To date, our surveys suggest non-smoking youth have been very unlikely to take up vaping in New Zealand compared to those who already smoke. We have the opportunity to get a win-win on vaping if we can continue this trend whilst shifting smokers to safer nicotine by providing meaningful information on risk, making safer alternates much more affordable and protecting people with sensible product safety standards."