New Zealand is likely to miss a key Smokefree target despite raising cigarette taxes repeatedly since 2010. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

New Zealand is likely to miss a key milestone in its Smokefree 2025 target, a new Ministry of Health report has revealed.

The Ministry of Health’s annual Health and Independence Report has painted a stark picture of the health of the nation, in particular our persistently high smoking rates.

While New Zealanders’ overall health is improving, the report says severe inequalities and high smoking rates threaten to erode hard-fought gains, conceding the Government is unlikely to meet its 2018 Smokefree target.

The 2018 target, set in 2011 as a mid-term measure for the wider plan, aims to reduce daily smoking prevalence to 10 percent and to halve Māori and Pacific rates from 2011 levels.

The Government is close to its target for the general population. Smoking rates have dropped to 13.8 percent in the wider population, but progress has been slow. In 2006/07, smoking rates were 18.3 percent.

The 4.5 percent victory is the result of massive annual cigarette price hikes since 2010. Then, the average packet of 25 cigarettes cost $13.46, it now costs $35.14 — 83 percent of which is tax.

The report concedes it will likely miss the target for Māori by “a wide margin”.

In 2006/07, rates of smoking among Māori were 39.2 percent. The successive price hikes have seen smoking among Māori fall by just 17 percent, to 32.5 percent — far from the 50 percent target.

The taxes have also failed to make much of a dent in smoking rates for Pacific peoples, which fell from 24.8 percent in 2006/07 to 21.8 percent in 2016/17.

It notes the Ministry of Health is working with “consumers and providers” to redesign stop-smoking initiatives to focus more strongly on their impact on Māori.

The most recent report on smoking prevention shows just $61.7 million was spent on smoking prevention programmes in 2016. In 2017, nearly $1.7 billion in revenue was raised from tobacco excise.

Poorer hit by worse health outcomes

The report also noted socio-economic barriers to good health and obtaining effective medical care.

Children aged zero to 14 from the most deprived neighbourhoods had higher rates of hospital admissions than children from the least deprived neighbourhoods.

It noted 15 percent of children were living in households experiencing a “forced lack of things considered essential for wellbeing”, which manifested in poorer health.

Transport was also targeted by the report, which said 148,000 New Zealanders missed out on GP visits due to difficulties getting to health services.

Outcomes for the nation’s poorest are alarming, given costs continue to rise for poorer families.

Inflation has hit the poorest households twice as hard as the well off. In the last decade, inflation for the lowest spending households was 22.2 percent, compared with 11.7 percent for the highest spending households.

The current Government has continued this trend, keeping regressive cigarette taxes which will continue to increase, and hiking taxes on petrol.

Some good news

There were some nuggets of good news. Overall, life expectancy is increasing and the time New Zealanders spend in good health is on the rise too.

Life expectancy for women is now 83.4 years, up 3.6 years from 79.8 years in 1996. For men, it is 79.5 years, an increase of five years from 79.8 years in 1996.

We are also expected to be healthier for longer. Women’s health expectancy is now 71.8 years, with male health expectancy 69.8 years, an increase of 2.9 years and 4.1 years respectively from 1996 rates.

Health Minister David Clark said he was happy Kiwis were living longer, healthier lives, but said there was work to do.

“I’m confident the review of the New Zealand Health and Disability Sector we’ve begun will provide a solid foundation on which to make the changes we need to deliver a healthier and fairer future,’’ Clark said.

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