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Tobacco control: Australia vs New Zealand

Introduction by Croakey: Australia and New Zealand may now be linked by our travel bubble but when it comes to tobacco control our countries are moving further apart.

The Aotearoa New Zealand Government has committed to reducing smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels by 2025

As part of this commitment, the NZ Ministry of Health has released a discussion document, Proposals for a Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan for community and stakeholder consultation.

This paper suggests some innovative measures to reduce tobacco-related harms, including lowering the level of nicotine in cigarettes and restricting the sale of tobacco products to pharmacies or adult-only outlets.

In contrast, one of Australia’s governing coalition parties still accepts donations from the tobacco industry and allows industry representatives to participate in its national conferences and other events, providing ready access to their political leaders.

A story featured in Michael West Media reveals the level of financial support provided by tobacco multinational Philip Morris to the National Party and other tactics used by the tobacco giant to influence reporting on tobacco issues by the mainstream media.

Croakey editor Jennifer Doggett contrasts these two approaches to tobacco control below.


Jennifer Doggett writes:

An investigation by Stephanie Tran for Michael West Media has revealed the close links between the tobacco industry and the National Party.

Tran reports Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) data showing that since the 1998-99 financial year tobacco giant Philip Morris has donated $613,608 to the Nationals, as well as paying a top tier $55,000 annual membership fee (in 2019-20).

This level of membership entitles Philip Morris to seats at all Boardroom series event, corporate observer packages at the National Council/Conference and tables at the federal budget dinner and leaders’ lunch events and more.

Funding mechanisms

The article details how funding from Philip Morris is funnelled through to the party via third party entities established and run by people closely associated with the Nationals.

These fees and other donations are collected by an entity called, Laneway Assets, established in 2015 with two main shareholders: former deputy prime ministers John Anderson and Warren Truss.

The directors of Laneway Assets, Jonathan Hawkes and Larry Anthony, are also notable members of the Nationals.

In 2019-20 Laneway Assets collected $121,000 from Philip Morris, COAL21, the Minerals Council and NAB, Michael West Media reported.

The Nationals’ other associated entity is John McEwen House. Company directors include current Nationals’ president Kay Hull and four former National Party presidents in Larry Anthony, Don McDonald, Shirley McKerrow and John Tanner.

In 2019-20 John McEwen House collected $173,062 from eight companies, including Philip Morris.

Mainstream media

Tran also notes that Philip Morris seeks to influence public opinion on tobacco issues via the mainstream media. Last year, Philip Morris paid News Corp tens of thousands of dollars to run a series of articles in The Australian that promoted vaping as a safe alternative to traditional smoking.

The Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACSH) has questioned whether the articles breached the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992.

Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan

Across the Tasman, Aotearoa New Zealand has released a discussion document for consultation on proposals for a Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan.

This document outlines strategies to reduce smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels by 2025.

These strategies focus on reducing smoking rates among Māori, Pacific peoples and those living in disadvantaged communities and take into account the environmental and social determinants of smoking, including stress, access to resources, and the attitudes and behaviours of friends and whanau.

Image source: Proposals for a Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan: Discussion document. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

A focus on equity

In introducing the discussion paper, the Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall, Associate Minister of Health, emphasised the need to prevent young New Zealanders from taking up smoking and also to address inequities in smoking rates across the population:

The best way to achieve a smokefree future is for young New Zealanders to never start smoking. We have made great progress in reducing smoking among young people, but significant inequities remain. In some cases, inequities have grown as our tobacco control efforts have worked better for some groups of New Zealanders than others. We must focus much more strongly on achieving equitable outcomes for young New Zealanders.

Specific proposals

Some of the proposals in the discussion document include:

  • Strengthening Māori governance of the tobacco control programme
  • Reducing the availability of tobacco products in retail outlets to 5 percent or less of the current estimated number of outlets
  • Restricting the sale of tobacco products to specialist R18 stores and/or pharmacies.
  • Prohibiting the sale, and the supply in a public place, of smoked tobacco products to new cohorts from a specified date (thus grandfathering in existing smokers while phasing out the legal sale of smoked tobacco products over many years)
  • Reducing nicotine content in tobacco products to minimal levels.
  • Setting a minimum price for tobacco.
  • Increasing investment in stop smoking services for priority populations

The paper is currently out for consultation with the New Zealand community until May 31.


See previous Croakey articles on tobacco control. 

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