“The appointment of Dr Ayesha Verrall as New Zealand’s Health Minister is good news for the country’s collective effort to achieve Smokefree Aotearoa 2025,” says Nancy Loucas, Executive Coordinator of CAPHRA (Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates).
“Dr Verrall understands better than anyone that to eradicate the harm from combustible tobacco, viable safer nicotine products must be available for smokers to successfully make the switch,” says Ms Loucas.
Her comments follow new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins elevating Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall to number eight in the Cabinet, naming her as Minister of Health. She is also now Minister for Research, Science, and Innovation. Previously, she was Associate Health Minister.
“The Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act was Dr Verrall’s baby. It will decrease the number of retail outlets able to sell tobacco, reduce the appeal of cigarettes, and ensure the next generation is never sold tobacco,” she says.
Ms Loucas says during last year’s debates, Dr Verrall was determined to keep her eye on the prize and not relitigate the 2020 vaping legislation despite pressure from lobby groups.
“She appreciates the role of vaping in Smokefree 2025 and remains 100% focused on combustible tobacco – the real scourge and killer in our society,” says Ms Loucas.
CAPHRA points to Dr Verrall’s comments last year, when she reiterated the importance of providing Kiwi adults’ access to safer nicotine products: ‘We need to continue supporting people who smoke tobacco to successfully switch to less harmful products,’ said the then Associate Health Minister.
New Zealand’s THR strategy is working well. Last year, it was revealed that New Zealand’s smoking rate had fallen to an historic low of 8% of adults smoking daily. It has more than halved in the past decade.
“We just ask the new Minister not to buy into the growing manufactured hysteria around nicotine. Nicotine vaping doesn’t kill. Rather, it’s combustible cigarettes that lead to 5,000 Kiwis dying from smoking-rated illness each year,” she says.
Ms Loucas also calls on the new Health Minister to ensure greater compliance of the retail rules via the Vaping Regulatory Authority.
“We need more resources directed towards enforcement to stop the likes of rogue retailers selling vape products to minors. We also need to see greater parental responsibility,” she says.
“Dr Verrall knows that vaping products are key, and Kiwis quitting smoking must be able to maintain comparable nicotine levels. Nicotine vaping is the best way for individuals to quit cigarettes and for New Zealand to achieve smokefree. The country’s new, progressive Health Minister will also be a big help,” says Nancy Loucas.