The Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons (RACDS) expresses deep concern regarding the recent decision by New Zealand’s newly elected government to repeal the Smokefree Amendments Act. This unexpected reversal raises serious implications for oral health and overall well-being.
In 2023, approximately 8% of New Zealand adults continue to smoke daily, with Māori and Pacific people being twice as likely to smoke as other ethnicities. Smokers disproportionally come from low-socioeconomic communities and are often hardest to reach in terms of public health measures. Eliminating the smoking burden for future generations will improve the health and financial outcomes of New Zealanders. Specifically, there is clear evidence linking tobacco use to an increased risk of gum disease and tooth loss, cancers in the lips, mouth, and pharynx.
Smoking complicates the treatment of dental conditions, it hampers healing in the mouth and in the gums, and significantly increases the cost of care, especially for those least able to afford oral health care. The interconnected nature of oral health with overall health cannot be overstated.
Smoking is not only a significant risk factor for oral health problems, especially mouth and throat cancer, but also contributes to systemic issues, including cardiovascular diseases and respiratory disorders, especially lung cancers. Too often, oral health problems and their complications then shift to the overburdened public health system.
Smoking remains a critical public health issue, particularly among the youth, and the Smokefree Amendments Act represented an essential step towards addressing this challenge. The recent decision jeopardises the health of the younger generation, who would have benefitted from the preventive measures embedded in such regulations.
The RACDS urges the New Zealand government to reconsider its position and prioritise the long- term health and well-being of its citizens. Preventive measures, including legislation to curb smoking, are essential components of a comprehensive public health strategy. By introducing and enforcing such measures, the government can actively contribute to a healthier population and reduce the burden on the healthcare system.