A Nicotine League to combat smoking

Insights Newsletter
27 April, 2018

In the late 70s, an American public health council teamed up with DC Comics to create the villain Nick O’Teen. Nick O’Teen was an enemy of Superman. He had bad breath, was a ‘hijacker of health’ and a ‘foe of the fit.’ If you were a kid growing up at the time, the message was clear: smoking is not cool. Nicotine is evil.

Fast-forward to today, and the message that smoking is dangerous has certainly sunk in with most young people in countries like New Zealand. In fact, youth uptake of smoking has continued to decline here, with only 2.2 percent of Year 10 students smoking daily (down from 15.2 percent in 1999).

However, what has changed – at least in tobacco harm reduction circles – is the characterisation of nicotine. It is now well-acknowledged that people might smoke for the nicotine, but most of the harm caused by cigarettes is due to combustion.

You would think, then, that policymakers and public health experts would welcome the development of smoke-free products that still deliver nicotine but significantly reduce the harms associated with cigarettes.

You would think that New Zealand especially would embrace such products. After all, the government has expressed an aspiration to have the country ‘Smokefree by 2025’. In fact, the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 (SFEA) was introduced in part to reduce the harms of smoking and the harmful constituents in cigarettes and smoke.

But alas, public health policy works in mysterious ways.

There is frustration that the Labour government have not yet expressed a position on e-cigarettes, despite the fact vaping is already helping many New Zealanders quit smoking. Legalising e-cigarettes could benefit consumers by broadening access. Perversely, given the current availability of e-cigarettes, legalisation with heavy regulations could also restrict the access and freedoms vapers currently enjoy.

New Zealanders also do not have access to other nicotine delivery products available overseas that are helping people cut down or quit smoking. Snus (tobacco pouches placed under the gum) and heat-not-burn tobacco products could also contribute to a tobacco harm reduction framework. These products too have not yet been approved by public health officials.

Tobacco policy has traditionally neglected the people it should be helping: smokers. Though the decline in youth smoking should rightly be celebrated, current smokers are not receiving the support and options they need to cut down or quit smoking.

Nicotine is not the bad guy, combustion is. And it might take a league of different nicotine products to some day make smoking obsolete.

‘Smoke and Vapour: the changing world of tobacco harm reduction’ is the latest report by The New Zealand Initiative and will be released in May. If you have an interest in the subject, do get in touch with Jenesa.

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