A global view on smoking bans

While Indiana may only now be getting around to discussing whether smoking should be banned in bars and restaurants, other parts of the world are taking matters a lot further.

Indeed, when I lived in Ohio (from 2004 to 2007.) I was surprised to find that laws banning smoking in restaurants and bars were only just coming into force up over there, and Indiana is a couple of years behind Ohio.

New Zealand implemented laws to this effect a full two decades ago - in 1990, in fact.

According to TVNZ’s Web site this past week, the anti-smoking debate has moved much further on, with almost 50 percent of New Zealanders now supporting a total ban on cigarette sales within the next 10 years.

The 2008 Health and Lifestyles Survey compiled nationwide interviews from the Health Sponsorship Council of 1,608 people, including 422 smokers, and has just been published in the NZ Medical Journal.

It found 49.8 percent of people agreed cigarettes should no longer be sold in New Zealand in 10 years, 30.3 percent disagreed and 19.9 percent neither agreed nor disagreed. Of the smokers surveyed, 26.2 percent agreed and 55.3 percent disagreed.

The study also showed public support for plain, unbranded cigarette packets and fewer tobacco retailers.

One of the study’s authors, Dr George Thomson, from the University of Otago, called on the Government to take action.

“There’s now a need for politicians to embrace and act on the idea of a foreseeable and planned end to tobacco sales through a predicable timetable by 2020.” Dr. Thompson told TVNZ. “The public wants more defined action to reduce smoking, and not a series of incremental steps.”

Currently the New Zealand government raises approximately $1 billion from taxes on cigarette sales. However, with approximately 21 percent of New Zealanders still smoking, more than 4,000 deaths annually, and $1.5 billion in annual health costs, are attributable to smoking-related illnesses.

New Zealand’s total population is approximately four million, so 4,000 deaths and health costs of that magnitude are quite significant numbers in a small country.

Currently less than 5 percent of the revenue raised is put toward anti-smoking measures, and the researchers called for this amount to be increased.

The researchers also argue that smoking is more affordable now than in 2001 as income levels have increased, while taxes have not been raised above inflation, and said the Government should increase tobacco taxes.

“While the existing measures, such as smoke free legislation and improved quit support, are very important, if tobacco is becoming relatively more affordable, then these efforts are undermined and smoking is unlikely to decline, as price relative to income is a critical factor in the New Zealand market,” researcher Professor Richard Edwards advised.

According to the study, even smokers support the move to increase tobacco taxes above inflation, provided that additional revenue was used to fund measures to reduce smoking.

“Tobacco tax increases targeted at helping people to quit have been successful here and overseas, and could help reduce harm to the health of New Zealanders due to smoking and reduce health inequalities.” Professor Edwards claimed.

The researchers say there had been relatively little reduction in smoking since 1991, despite measures such as banning smoking in bars and clubs and introducing graphic pack warnings, and New Zealand was out of step with other countries which had greater reduction in smoking through policies discouraging smoking.

TVNZ noted that the Scottish Parliament this week voted to end the display of cigarettes and tobacco products in shop as well as banning sales from vending machines in a bid to deter children from taking up the habit.

Labour (NZ political party) Associate Health spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway, who has drafted a private member’s bill to ban smoking displays, applauded the move.

He called for the Government to address the issue and not wait for his bill to be drawn from the ballot.

“Governments around the world are taking this next logical step in the fight to reduce smoking rates.” proclaimed Lees-Galloway. “It’s time we caught up.”

Hmmm. New Zealand is talking about the need to “catch up” with the rest of the world, and yet it is some 20 years ahead of the Mid-West states?
Food for thought!

By FRANK SHANLY, News-Banner.com
February 3, 2010

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