Smokefree campaign director disappointed in lack of Government action, Jacinda Ardern defends response

If Aotearoa wants a fighting chance to be smoke free, the work has to start now, according to a leading expert in the campaign. 

Newshub revealed on Sunday that nine years after it announced New Zealand would be smoke free by 2025, the Government still doesn't have a plan to make it happen.

Action for Smokefree 2025 (ASH) director Deborah Hart says "unfortunately" she is not surprised at the lack of delivery but hopes new Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall can step up.

"She seems very committed to getting us to smoke free 2025," Hart told The AM Show on Monday.

"But she has to be really, really quick because the progress we've made so far is not good enough."

Data provided to Newshub shows there isn't even a finalised draft for Aotearoa to be smoke free. 

In May 2018, Labour's Associate Health Minister at the time Jenny Salesa said she was developing a plan.

Ten months later she told Cabinet it would be finished by October 2019. But more than a year after that, there's still not even a draft. 

Hart says in order to attain the goal of a 95 percent smoke free Aotearoa, 60,000 people need to quit every year.

"It's absolutely possible but soon we will be in the position where it won't be possible."

She says three things need to happen for New Zealand to achieve its goals.

"We need to invest in mass marketing to sell the smoke free message… we need to optimise less harmful alternatives like vaping, and we need to support communities to upscale what they're doing particularly in Māori and Pacific communities."

The current projection shows Māori and Pasifika communities will be smoke free by the middle of the century if nothing changes - 36 years after the target. 

Hart says the focus should be on communities.

"It's not working to have a top-down solution. We need to support communities to help them, help others."

Ardern defends response

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended her Government, saying the smoke free plan will be consulted on in 2021 and lots of other work has been done to stop Kiwis smoking.

"You know that we sent a lot of our time and effort stopping smoking in cars with kids," she told The AM Show.

"The focus was on some of those more difficult smoking cessation tools - vaping is something that's seen as a good way of stopping and a lot of work went into that."

She maintained the goal of being smoke free by 2025 is not a political one. 

"There's no politics in it, it's for everyone in New Zealand."