New Zealand - more and more teenagers turned off by smoking..

January 4, 2009 - The number of teenagers who have never lit up a cigarette is rapidly increasing, leading some to conclude a sea change is occurring in young people's attitudes to tobacco. Surveys for the Ministry of Health show that just over half of teenagers aged 15 to 19 have never tried smoking - "not even one puff". This is markedly higher than in 2006, when the figure was 39 per cent. (Teen smoking rates halved in less than a decade, Press Release: ASH, 6/25/2007)

The trend, attributed to the increasing "denormalisation" of smoking through changes like the 2004 ban on smoking in bars, is even more marked among 14- and 15-year-olds. A survey of them in 2008 found that 61 per cent reported never having smoked - a figure that has nearly doubled in nine years. (New Zealand: Teen smoking rates hit new lows, reveals survey, The New Zealand Herald, 13 June 2009, Smokefree Liverpool)

The possibility of a radical shift in youth behaviour and attitudes to smoking coincides with a two-pronged push to plot the demise of tobacco. The public health community and Maori Party MP Hone Harawira are campaigning for the eventual elimination of what they call an addictive poison that should no longer be considered a normal consumer product.

The National-led Government refused - in line with storekeepers' wishes - to implement the recommendation to put tobacco out of public view in shops. Yet it is convinced of the importance of reducing the smoking rate, so much so that it is holding district health boards to account on their smoking-cessation support to hospitalised smokers.

This is because smoking is so destructive - to individuals and to the economy. By causing serious illnesses like lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and other breathing and circulation conditions, it kills 4200 people a year, and secondhand smoke is estimated to take another 300. And it costs the economy more than $1.6 billion, of which $1.5 billion is spent on healthcare. Smokers spend about $1.6 billion a year on tobacco products, of which more than $1 billion is taken by the government in excise tax and GST.

Campaigning by the Maori Party has led to Parliament's Maori affairs committee deciding to hold an inquiry aimed at forcing the tobacco industry to reveal the methods it has used to promote smoking among Maori. (New Zealand - Maori committee to investigate smoking..) The committee is likely to recommend radical tobacco-control policies to the Government.

Smokefree campaigners such as Ben Youdan, the director of Action on Smoking and Health, are excited about the inquiry, which they see as a turning point in the history of smoking - and not just for Maori. "This is a major opportunity to get tobacco manufacturers, who are the ones responsible for promoting tobacco and getting people addicted, to be publicly held to account.

Reference: Battle lines drawn in final push to get rid of tobacco by Martin Johnston, New Zealand Herald, 1/4/2009.

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About photo of teenager:
Just saying no.. One of a worrying number of teenagers..
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 20: Just saying no. One of a worrying number of teenage smokers 16 yearold Janeen Strom of Glen Eden gave up smoking when she was 13.
Photo: Wayne Wilson/Getty Images
Nov 20, 1998