Health community worried over New Zealand’s move to rollback laws that prevent access to tobacco
India has taken the right steps in controlling traditional tobacco products and newer versions, says public health expert
The New Zealand government’s move to rollback laws that prevent young people from accessing tobacco products has the public health community worried. Especially so, since years of global anti-tobacco efforts could be at risk of going up in smoke, they caution, if more countries follow suit.
“It is concerning and shows the tobacco industry is succeeding,” Srinath Reddy, founder and former president, Public Health Foundation of India, told businessline. Though India has taken the right steps in controlling traditional tobacco products and the newer versions, the public health community should stay vigilant, he said.
NZ’s anti-tobacco laws, billed by the global health community as being path-breaking, were announced last year and would have restricted the sale or tobacco products to those born after January 1, 2009; limited nicotine levels in products; and restricted the number of retail sellers. The newly-voted NZ government’s move to repeal these anti-tobacco initiatives are for funding tax cuts, reducing back-marketing, and upholding the freedom of choice, according to foreign media reports.
A progressive country like NZ was the first to take strong measures to be tobacco-free, observed Reddy, a long-time advocate for tobacco-control measures. Now, there is concern on how the UK, for instance, will act on similar measures, he said. The UK was reportedly inspired by NZ’s laws towards a “generational smoking ban” that aimed to make NZ smoke free for future generations.
These recent developments are a clear warning to “anyone who has a romanticised view that the tobacco industry was mending its ways”, said Reddy.
The public health community remains a divided house on electronic cigarettes and vaping, but Reddy says “there is evidence that e-cigarettes are not harmless products”. Countering the view that e-cigarettes would keep people, especially the younger ones away from hard tobacco products, he said, in fact, it was a move to capture an entirely new segment of users.
‘Lying to public’
Last month, the World Health Organization launched a campaign on the tobacco industry’s “tactics to influence public health policies”.
The industry has “a long history of lying to the public, even insisting that smoking does not cause lung cancer”, said the WHO. “Today, we know that tobacco causes 25 percent of all cancers and kills over 8 million people each year, but the industry persists with marketing what they call ‘new’ and ‘safer’ products that we know are harmful to health, while still producing trillions of cigarettes each year. With half of all tobacco users dying prematurely, the maintenance of the tobacco and nicotine market relies heavily on recruiting new, young users, and tobacco companies employ multiple tactics to gain the trust and interest of young people at an early age,” it added.