Tobacco use causes 8.6% of premature death and disability in Aotearoa/New Zealand

The number of New Zealanders smoking has dropped significantly over the past 20 years. However, tobacco use continues to take a catastrophic toll on New Zealanders, resulting in considerable suffering, debilitating diseases, and premature death.

Smoking remains a leading preventable cause of health inequity, especially for Māori, Pacific and low income people.

By working together to implement effective tobacco control measures, we can prevent New Zealanders dying from diseases caused by tobacco use.

Key facts:

  • Cigarette smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death and disease in Aotearoa (accounting for 8.6% of preventable health loss) [1]
  • In 2016, 15.7% (600,000) of Aotearoa/New Zealand adults smoked cigarettes (down from 20.1% a decade prior) [2]
  • Those who take up smoking do so in their later teen and young adult years (prevalence of daily smoking for 18-24 years is 20%).  Smoking remains rare among 15-17 year olds (3.9%) [2]
  • About 14% of pregnant women are smokers, and smoking during and beyond pregnancy is the leading cause of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) [3]
  • While smoking prevalence has declined, high rates of smoking continue to undermine the health of Māori (35%), Pacific peoples (24%) and people experiencing greater deprivation [2]. Tobacco is a key cause of health disparities. 
  • In Aotearoa/New Zealand, about 5,000 New Zealanders die prematurely every year because of tobacco use or exposure to second-hand smoke [4]
  1. Ministry of Health, Health and Independence Report 2017.  The Director-General of Health’s Annual Report on the State of Public Health. 2018, Ministry of Health: Wellington.
  2. Ministry of Health, Annual Update of Key Results 2016/17: New Zealand Health Survey. 2017, Ministry of Health Wellington.
  3. Ministry of Health, SUDI Statistics 2006-2010. 2013, Ministry of Health: Wellington.
  4. Ministry of Health, New Zealand’s Tobacco Control Programme. 2016, Ministry of Health Wellington.

Progress to date:

While overall smoking prevalence is reducing in Aotearoa/New Zealand, large disparities remain and we are not on track to achieve the government’s target of 2025 Smokefree Aotearoa (less than 5% prevalence).

About 14% of pregnant women are smokers, and smoking during and beyond pregnancy is the leading cause of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI)

Priority prevention measures*:

Aotearoa/New Zealand has a goal to become smokefree by 2025 (defined as less than 5% of the population smoking). We are not on track to achieve this goal, particularly among Māori. We urgently need to support Māori leadership, and develop and promote interventions that reduce smoking and smoking related inequities among Māori.

The Health Coalition Aotearoa welcomes the Government’s intention to develop a tobacco control action plan and risk-proportionate regulation of tobacco products and other nicotine delivery devices. We offer our collective knowledge and expertise to build these key initiatives.

The Coalition considers that the following measures should be prioritised to substantially reduce smoking uptake and support smokers to quit:

  • Continue to reduce the affordability of tobacco products and prevent industry minimising impact of measures through increases in tobacco excise, consideration of a minimum price and dedication of additional revenue to support smokers to quit
  • Implement measures to substantially reduce supply by reducing the number of retail outlets that can sell tobacco products
  • Implement measures to reduce the appeal and addictiveness of smoked tobacco products through removal of additives and mandated reduced nicotine content
  • Introduce proportionate regulation and policies for electronic nicotine delivery systems that maximise the degree to which they support smokers to quit or switch whilst minimising any unintended adverse impacts.
  • Greatly increase the use of social marketing campaigns to promote reductions in smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke (SHS)
  • Expand of smokefree settings
  • Continue to provide comprehensive cessation services tailored to community needs

More details on these measures are available in the Achieving Smokefree Aotearoa by 2025 plan (ASAP) available here

For more information on a Smokefree Aotearoa and research on tobacco visit: ASH, Cancer Society, Hāpai Te Hauora, and Health Promotion Agency: Smokefree, Aspire2025, and The National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI)

* This list of priority prevention policies are potential policies. Specific details of policy priorities to prevent the harm from unhealthy commodities and to strengthen public health foundations, are up for debate during the annual prevention week. All our members maintain their independent voice, and what it shown on this website may not represent the views of all individual Coalition members.