Tobacco sales are taking a dive but it needs to go further

New Zealand smokers are rejecting tobacco faster than at any time before, according to Dr George Laking, Chair of End Smoking NZ (ESNZ).   Tobacco company sales fell in 2019 to 2132 million cigarettes.   This is an 8.1 percent annual rate of decline across 2017 to 2019.   It is more than three times the rate of decline seen across the first six years of the Government’s Smokefree 2025 project, starting in 2011 (see Table, Decline in NZ Tobacco Sales 2011 to 2019). 

On a per-population basis, cigarette consumption amongst New Zealanders aged 15 and over fell from 670 to 543 per annum across 2017 to 2019.  This is an annual decline of 9.5 percent, almost three times the rate of 3.5 percent, seen across 2011 to 2017. 
Dr Murray Laugesen, an ESNZ trustee long involved in tobacco control, analysed company returns published on the Ministry of Health website. It is  30 years  this Friday since the Smokefree Environments Act first required manufacturers to report cigarettes sold.  The data was priceless he said, in that it told us exactly how many cigarettes were sold.

Two main things could account for the accelerating decline in tobacco sales, according to Dr Laking.  These are the appeal of tobacco, and the availability of alternative products. 
In March 2011 smokers were paying only $16.39 for a pack of 25 cigarettes.   In March 2020 they are paying $41.89.  Dr Laking said these prices are meant to reduce the appeal of tobacco smoking, which kills four thousand New Zealanders each year.  They are the result of eleven successive 10 percent increases in tobacco excise since 2011, via the Excise and Excise-equivalent Duties Table (Tobacco Products) Amendment Act 2010, and the Customs and Excise (Tobacco Products—Budget Measures) Amendment Acts 2012 and 2016. 

Meantime the widespread availability of vaping e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn devices may help smokers quit sooner.  In 2018 the Health Promotion Agency found that 23 percent of recent quit attempters had used an e-cigarette in the previous two weeks. 

In 2011 the Government committed to the Smokefree 2025 goal, of a less than 5 percent prevalence of smokers by the year 2025.   Continuation of a 9.5 percent annual per-capita decline in tobacco use, suggests the goal will still not be met until at least 2029, four years overdue.

End Smoking New Zealand urges the incoming New Zealand government to prioritise the Smokefree 2025 campaign, and to support innovative measures in tobacco control, so we can meet the goal of 5 percent smoking prevalence in the year 2025.  Success in the goal would imply further reductions of tobacco imports by 5–6 percent per year from 2021 onwards.  

Annual changeAnnual change
Cigarettes, millions298425832522254223252132–2.5%–8.1%
Population age 15 and over, millions3.513.633.723.793.863.92+1.3%+1.8%
Cigarettes per person849711679670602543–3.5%–9.5%
Based on calculations from returns of manufacturers, and population age 15 and over, annually up to June 2019.
One roll-your-own cigarette = 1.43 factory made cigarettes, based on tobacco content and excise.
Deleted: cigars, cigarillos, blunts, hookah tobacco, heat not burn, and duty-free tobacco.

Table: Decline in NZ Tobacco Sales, 2011 to 2019

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