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Budget to enable health reforms positive for smokefree - AVCA

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

"The Budget’s establishment funding to enable significant health reforms is positive news for those wanting a more centralised, concerted national health effort to achieve the likes of Smokefree Aotearoa," says a leading tobacco harm reduction advocate.

Her comments follow Finance Minister Grant Robertson today announcing that Budget 2021 includes funding to begin the transition from 20 District Health Boards (DHBs) to one Health New Zealand organisation. The reforms will also establish a new Māori Health Authority.

"All our DHBs run successful ‘vape to quit’ smoking cessation programmes but the commitment and resourcing varies quite a bit. As a result, after 10 years of New Zealand wanting to be smokefree by 2025, we’re sadly not going to get there. The new health structure, however, provides an opportunity to turbocharge our national ambition," says Nancy Loucas, co-director of Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA).

She says Britain’s similarly centralised National Health Service (NHS) has been an effective catalyst for switching smokers to vaping. In England alone, nearly three million adults now vape - backed by Public Health England ruling it’s 95% less harmful than smoking.

"The NHS has been a real champion of smokers quitting tobacco by vaping, and they’re not shy about it. A recent high-profile initiative, for example, sees all smokers given e-cigarette 'starter packs' when they’re discharged from an emergency department. It’s that kind of unilateral leadership that can make a difference," she says.

AVCA is also pleased the Government didn’t use Covid 19’s massive financial impact to bring back tobacco tax hikes as a revenue gathering exercise. In four consecutive Budgets from 2016 excise duty was increased, with the last taking effect in January 2020 which saw an average pack of 25 cigarettes rise to over $41.

"It’s great the Government wasn’t tempted to hike tobacco tax. It’s terribly regressive, hitting the vulnerable the hardest with the high Māori smoking rate budging little. AVCA believes education remains key, as does ensuring vaping is an accessible and appealing alternative.

"One missed opportunity in this Budget was that no extra funding was specified to support ‘vape to quit’ programmes and the Government’s latest Smokefree 2025 reboot. Nonetheless, Health New Zealand is being funded into life and its singular focus is a real opportunity to further reduce tobacco harm," says Nancy Loucas.

AVCA is encouraging submissions on the Government’s smokefree discussion document before 31 May via: https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/proposals-smokefree-aotearoa-2025-action-plan

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