The number of cigarettes being sold in New Zealand looks to have fallen more sharply over the past two years or so, according to new stats released to 1 NEWS under the Official Information Act.
The Health Promotion Agency has published statistics showing the number of cigarettes sold in millions over four-weekly periods.
Those numbers are gathered from supermarket, service station and liquor store sales numbers by AC Nielsen.
It hasn't published the data since 2016 - the most recent figures was provided to 1 NEWS under the OIA.
The number of cigarettes sold during the 2018 peak period - traditionally near Christmas, just before a price increase - was down by 10.6 per cent, year-on-year.
That is equivalent to 7.7 million fewer cigarettes sold during the peak period, or 385,000 packets of 20.
The drop in sales between the previous peaks in 2017, 2016 and 2015 have been 1.4 per cent, 1 per cent and 3.5 per cent, respectively.
Overall annual cigarettes sales dropped by 6.9 per cent in 2018, while the drops in sales in 2017, 2016, and 2015 were 5 per cent, 1.5 per cent and no change, respectively.
Plain packaging was made mandatory on March 14 last year, while the mainstream rise of vaping as an alternative to smoking has continued to accelerate over the past few years.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said "New Zealand has developed a broad tobacco control programme over several decades that includes prohibitions on sales to under-18s, advertising and display of products, smokefree areas, tobacco taxation, social marketing and stop-smoking services".
According to Ministry of Health statistics, about 581,000 adults - 15 per cent of the population - are current smokers, which is down from 20 per cent in 2006/07.
The ministry did not comment on whether the sharper drop could be correlated to the increased prevalence of vaping.
According to the 2017/18 New Zealand Health Survey, about 723,000 adults aged over 15 - 18 per cent of the population - had tried vaping, which was up from 16 per cent at the time of the 2015/16 survey.
"Vaping is a way to quit cigarettes by getting nicotine with fewer of the toxins that come from burning tobacco," the spokesperson said.
"Although vaping’s much less harmful than smoking, it’s not harmless - so people should plan to eventually quit vaping too, but only when they're sure they won’t go back to smoking.
"The Government is working to put legislation in place as quickly as possible to ensure vaping products are accessible to those who need them while protecting children and young people.
"A bill to amend the Smoke-free Environments Act is expected to come before Parliament by the end of the year."
Mounting concern about vaping products and their potential to cause harm, especially to young people, led Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa to indicate she may look to ban all vape flavours apart from tobacco, menthol and mint in the future.
It also led National Party MP Nicky Wagner to introduce the Smoke-free Environments (Regulation of E-Cigarettes) Amendment Bill which, if passed, will introduce several changes to the laws around vaping, including:
- Prohibiting the sale, and supply of electronic cigarettes to people under the age of 18 years.
- Restricting the use of vending machines.
- Limiting advertising and promotion to point-of-sale displays.
- Establishing regulatory standards for quality and toxicity for electronic cigarettes.
- Prohibiting misleading health warnings from being displayed on electronic cigarettes.
- Prohibiting vaping in legislated smoke free areas.
- Giving the Government the power to include information about e-cigarettes on product packets.