Journal article

What role can local authorities play in tobacco 'end-game' policies in New Zealand?

20 Aug 2013

This article discusses the powers available to local authorities in regard to restrictions on sales and extension of smoke-free areas, the potential for any bylaws to be challenged, and the likely issues arising.


In March 2011 the New Zealand government agreed to the recommendation that it ‘aim for tobacco consumption and smoking prevalence to be halved by 2015 across all demographics, followed by a longer-term goal of making New Zealand a smoke-free nation by 2025’. ‘Smoke-free’ is defined in this instance as a very low prevalence of smoking and minimal availability of tobacco, rather than prohibition of smoking.

To date New Zealand has implemented a comprehensive tobacco control programme and has ratified the global Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Tobacco control policy has been implemented mainly via national law in the form of the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 and amendments thereof. This law and associated regulations prohibit indoor smoking in workplaces, tobacco promotion, including display of products at the point of sale, and incentives for retailers from tobacco companies. Graphic warnings required on all tobacco products are covered in the regulations. Tax on tobacco in New Zealand has also been significantly increased. Some smoking cessation medications are subsidised and there is a national organisation which provides cessation support via a variety of networks.

Despite these tobacco control measures, current trends in tobacco use indicate that they will be insufficient to achieve the Smokefree 2025 goal. Additional, innovative policy measures will be required. Reducing the availability of tobacco is one of these proposed measures. Extension of smoke-free areas to outdoors is another. This article considers the potential for New Zealand local authorities to contribute to the tobacco ‘end game’ in their role as regulators of tobacco sales and smoking.

Internationally, local-level tobacco control policies have been implemented in a number of jurisdictions. For example, over 150 local jurisdictions in California have smoke-free outdoor policies, ranging from protection around businesses, footpaths, parks and beaches to complete bans on outdoor public smoking. Other US states with local laws restricting smoking include Massachusetts, Texas and North Carolina . In New Zealand, the largest local authority, Auckland Council, has committed to a goal of 3% smoking prevalence by 2030 in four of its local board areas. Several local authorities in the United Kingdom are considering how they can contribute to reducing smoking prevalence. This contribution ranges from explicit support by Wigan Council for national tobacco control measures such as plain packaging, to consideration of bylaws banning smoking around play and sports areas by the London Borough of Hackney.

Licensing of tobacco retailers is uncommon and conditions of licences are generally minimal; restrictions on tobacco availability are also relatively rare. The restrictions focus on preventing sales to minors. Conditions for tobacco sales are inconsistent with those for other hazardous products, such as pharmaceuticals, firearms, and even foods, for example meat. A consequence is easy access to the most harmful smoked form of nicotine, tobacco, and more strictly regulated access to less harmful medicinal nicotine, such as nicotine patches and gum. Here we discuss the powers available to local authorities in regard to restrictions on sales and extension of smoke-free areas, the potential for any bylaws to be challenged, and the likely issues arising.

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