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Speech To Health Sponsorship Council Tobacco Free Aotearoa Conference 2010

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Fuseworks Media
Speech To Health Sponsorship Council Tobacco Free Aotearoa Conference 2010

Waipuna Hotel, Panmure, Auckland: Delivered on behalf of Minister Turia by Dr Ashley Bloomfield - Ministry of Health

It has been heart-warming to read the rapturous reports from across the country in response to the report of the Maori Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the tobacco industry.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners summed it up in three short statements:

"Too much of the healthcare dollar is spent on the avoidable harm caused by smoking. Too many individuals have their lives damaged or shortened by tobacco. Too many families lose loved ones before their time".

But it was not just the matter of the report scoring a good report card. There was also commitment and ownership of the recommendations, with a number of organisations pledging their immediate support.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation quickly put their hands up to be part of the solution

"Nurses and kaimahi hauora are credible and trusted health professionals, and have the potential to be the largest workforce in Aotearoa New Zealand providing effective smoking cessation interventions. We can all be powerful advocates for tobacco-free homes and communities".

Plunket was also swift in their support of the cause:

"As an advocate of whanau awhina, whanau ora Plunket supports smoke-free homes, environments and communities".

Meanwhile the Cancer Society issued the challenge, that "Media, cancer control agencies and governments all over the world are watching to see how New Zealand moves."

So here we are today, at the Tobacco-free Aotearoa Conference for 2010, inspired and excited by the challenge of being international leaders in tobacco control.

We are making such significant progress and the momentum must be continued.

I want to congratulate everyone here on your drive, energy and passion for this very important kaupapa. Thank you for the difference you have made for the future of our nation. You all deserve a standing ovation!

It has been the most rapid twelve months in the history of making policy around tobacco control.

Just over a year ago, the Maori Affairs Select Committee announced it would carry out an inquiry into the tobacco industry and in particular the consequences of tobacco use for Maori.

In March I initiated a public consultation on a proposal to ban tobacco displays in retail outlets.

In April results from the 2009 tobacco use survey showed that the current smoking rates for 15-64 year olds had dropped to 21.8%, down 2.1% from the 2008 rate. In real numbers that's about 30,000 fewer smokers.

Then there's the youth smoking rate which dropped from 20.8% in 2008 to 18% a year later. These are fantastic results which demonstrate that people are starting to recognise the serious harms that come from smoking and saying that it's just not worth it.

But my proudest moment of all was in April this year when Parliament passed my legislation to increase tobacco excise with an overwhelming cross-party majority of 118 votes to four. The speeches that night emphasized to me just how much support there is across the House for dealing with the harm caused by tobacco - and I know that the political support is a very strong indicator of the level of public support behind it.

The excise tax increases were really significant. First off, we equalised the tax on loose tobacco to match tailor-made cigarettes. Basically this was about ensuring no matter what type of tobacco smoked, the smoker would face the same incentive to quit.

Then we raised the tax on all tobacco products by ten percent. For roll-your-own-tobacco that had an effect of an immediate increase by more than 25%.

But that wasn't all - the legislation passed that night included another ten percent rise in January 2011 and then another ten percent in 2012.

For those who are counting the costs, the prices of a pack of twenty cigarettes lifted up towards the $15 mark and a pouch of roll your own grew to nearly $30.

The best news of all is that the number of smokers registered with Quitline almost doubled in the month after the increases came into effect.

If a quarter of the 4000 extra quit attempts are successful that will mean 1000 less smokers; 500 lives saved; and giving back to Aotearoa 7500 years of life that might otherwise have been lost to early deaths through smoking.

But we haven't just stopped at tax.

Access to pharmaceuticals to support smoking cessation continues to grow. Nicotine replacement therapy has been made much cheaper - it's now just three dollars for a two month supply of patches, gum or lozenge compared to twenty dollars prior to the change.

It's also been easier to access through a prescription from a Doctor.

And of course, last week Pfizer and Pharmac announced that Champix would be fully subsidised - via prescription - as another tool in our toolkit to help smokers quit.

All of these developments together are helping us, as a nation, meet Government's health target to provide better help for smokers to quit.

When reporting began in September 2009 hospitals were giving a mere 16 percent of patients who smoked, advice or support to quit. Nowadays that figure has reached to over two thirds of smokers. That is a brilliant result - and one which every DHB should be celebrating.

They tell me they're aiming for 90 percent by June next year - and I just want to say well done to all involved - but hey, let's go for 100 percent! Why stop now!

Based on the success in hospitals, there's also a primary care strategy which I believe will have an equally big impact.

And I want to just say a word about sector leadership.

All the evidence tells us now that a person who smokes can try up to fourteen times before finally stopping. The efforts of our GPs, nurses and other health professionals to go all out is critical in the journey to reduce smoking prevalence.

So what now, and where to from here?

Firstly, the Maori Affairs Select Committee report. I want to congratulate Tau Henare and the entire committee, for their outstanding efforts in producing such a bold and comprehensive report. This report is of major importance in laying the groundwork for our pathway forward, and I know it will be referred to for many years to come.

And I congratulate all those who wrote submissions, who appeared before the Committee, who offered the nation the expert advice we need to counter tobacco abuse.

This has been a unique process - representing wide-ranging debate and a broad spectrum of views and perspectives. As a nation New Zealand continues to assert its own identity and that is no different in our approach to questioning the tobacco industry and the role it plays in the health and wellbeing of our people.

The report sets out a goal of a Smokefree nation by 2025, and recommends the pathway to achieve that goal.

Included along the way are over forty substantial recommendations outlining a wide range of measures designed to reduce the harmful impact of tobacco on current and future New Zealanders ranging from banning displays, providing tobacco products in plain packaging; to removing additives from tobacco products.

The Government now has ninety days to provide a formal response to this very comprehensive report. Government will make our response to Parliament by February next year.

Today I am pleased to announce two areas of work which Government has already made great progress on, and which will meet a number of the recommendations outlined in the Report.

I am absolutely ecstatic to tell you today that last week, Cabinet approved my proposal to remove tobacco displays from the retail environment.

The Government has also decided to bring in a package of new and improved controls on the way tobacco products are sold in New Zealand to support the remove of retail displays, including:

- Better enforcement of the law preventing tobacco products being sold to people under 18 years of age by issuing infringement notices - much like speeding tickets - instead of lengthy and costly court processes;

- Tightening controls of the display of retailer trading names to prevent these being used to effectively advertise tobacco for sale

- Making other changes to existing regulations covering the display and signage requirements for tobacco products to bring these into alignment with the removal of retail tobacco products

- Clarifying that any contracts and agreements covering trade rebates and discounts for selling tobacco which are inconsistent with the Smokefree Environments Act are legally void.

These changes are to be brought in by amendment to the Smokefree Environments Act and subsequent regulations.

The Government has also decided to monitor progress on Australia's proposal to legislate for plain packaging of tobacco products by 2012 and explore the option of New Zealand making similar moves in alignment with Australia.

And for anyone in the room who might question the reason why we are placing our emphasis on tobacco displays, let me just turn to a statement issued yesterday by the New Zealand Medical Association.

"There is widespread research which has shown that children and adolescents, who frequently visit stores with tobacco displays, are more likely to start smoking. Studies have also found that a high proportion of smokers who try to quit experience an urge to purchase cigarettes. Banning retail displays would have a very positive impact on reducing smoking rates for young people and the overall population."

These are big announcements, in a very big week for tobacco control in Aotearoa.

I do hope that during this conference, you have a chance to celebrate the critical role you have all had as change-makers. Today we can be very proud of the protection we are putting in place to restore every New Zealander's right to the very best of health outcomes.

Finally can I say - if it wasn't already evident - that I am absolutely committed to reducing tobacco related harms and the massive health inequalities that smoking brings.

There is still so much to be done, but I'm more confident than ever that we can reach the goal of New Zealand being a nation free of tobacco - isn't it amazing to know it is now clearly within our sights!

I congratulate every single one of you here, for your commitment, energy and enthusiasm and for playing a role in delivering what will be a huge and enduring legacy for the health and wellbeing of Aotearoa.

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