New Zealand’s smoking rates plummet, while Australia’s stall - Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

New Zealand’s smoking rates plummet, while Australia’s stall

The reason for the discrepancy? Among other factors, one country's progressive approach to provide adults with less harmful alternatives to cigarettes.

For evidence that science-based tobacco control works, look no further than the dwindling smoking rates in New Zealand. 

According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) New Zealand, by the end of 2023 only 6.8% of adults reported smoking daily — down nearly 2% from the previous year, and nearly 10% for the past decade. For teenagers aged 14 to 15, daily cigarette smoking is almost obsolete at 1.2%. It’s clear to me that New Zealand’s triumph in lowering its smoking rates can be attributed in part to the country’s approach to combatting the tobacco epidemic. The nation’s policy experts have accepted that, combined with other evidence-based approaches, reduced-risk nicotine products like e-cigarettes play a critical role in saving lives. 

But New Zealand’s success is sharply contrasted by Australia’s smoking rates, which have persisted between 11% and 12% of people 14 and older for the last three years. The country requires a prescription to legally access e-cigarettes, among other restrictive measures. As of this year, Australia no longer imports disposable vapes. In addition to adult smoking levels, Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer revealed a threefold increase in the proportion of 14 to 17-year-olds smoking tobacco, from 2.1% in 2018 to 6.7% in 2022. 

In light of the problems encountered in Australia, some argue that a more effective public health approach should balance the needs of adult smokers and protecting youth. As I have said before, we can do both simultaneously. Our powerful interest in protecting children need not, and should not, impede our moral obligation to address the urgent needs of millions of adults who smoke and are at immediate risk of deadly illness. 

Tobacco control experts should support evidence-based interventions to end smoking. With still more than a billion smokers worldwide, we have a long way to go and our collaborative efforts to achieve change must remain relentless. 

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