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Remove Tobacco From Shops, Says Academic

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Alastair Bull of NZPA

Auckland, March 11 NZPA - An Auckland academic says smoking rates in New Zealand would plummet if tobacco products could not be displayed at shops.

Dr Marewa Glover of Auckland University told a select committee today that progress in tobacco control was poor and it was having a particularly bad effect among Maori.

She said outside the hearing that she disagreed with tobacco industry giant British American Tobacco New Zealand (BAT) that banning smoking or restricting its sale would merely produce an uncontrolled black market.

"There just will not be the death and illness to such an extent from so few people smoking, and the fastest way to do that is to get rid of the product off the shelves," Dr Glover said.

She said BAT's suggestion that they were offering a legal product which people were choosing to use was "a pack of lies".

"Nicotine is highly addictive and people do not have freedom of choice. It's a psychoactive drug, it works on the brain, it manipulates thought, it manipulates motivation and they are driven to smoke."

Dr Glover said she didn't want smoking banned but she wanted its over-the-counter sale banned, leaving it for internet purchase or grow-your-own customers only.

When asked about removing the product from visibility in stores but not removing them altogether, BAT managing director Graeme Amey said research showed this would have little impact on the prevalence of smoking.

But after Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei asked why BAT opposed this move if it would make no impact on smoking, Mr Amey said his company could lose market share as a result.

"We operate a commercial business and we are in the business of improving market share," he said. "Brand switching would become an issue."

Mr Amey would not tell the committee its marketing strategies in an open hearing, saying it was commercially sensitive. He said he would provide them to the committee confidentially.

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira thanked BAT for addressing the committee, but said he hoped that once the inquiry was complete, "we can ban these products forever".

Dr Glover said much of tobacco marketing came via its packet design, and removing these from public view would therefore help reduce smoking.

She told the committee that more than half Maori women of childbearing age were smokers, more than double the rate of the whole population, and that smoking among Maori women 14-18 weeks into pregnancy was still high at 45 percent.

She said 62 percent of the 328 sudden unexpected deaths among infants (sudi) between 2003 and 2007 were Maori.

"Smoking during pregnancy is a key risk factor for sudi," she said.

As well as restricting sale, Dr Glover said services to help people quit smoking needed to be easier to access.

"That sort of help needs to be as easy as going to the dairy to buy a packet of smokes."

Several people told the committee how smoking-related illnesses had claimed the lives of loved ones in their families.

Ngaire Rae of Manaia Public Health Organisation in Whangarei said she had just buried her father, who died from a smoking-related disease at the age of 68.

She said her story was all too common in Northland, where a huge proportion of Maori were smokers.

"He should be sharing his life stories with his whanau, and instead we are deprived of his wisdom and his life stories," she said.

"I am pleased make sure that there are some strong actions as a result of this inquiry. Let's not make this a talkfest, let's make sure your time and ours is not a waste."

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