The Cancer Society is launching a petition today calling for a “significant reduction” in the number of shops able to sell tobacco, saying the country won’t reach its Smokefree 2025 goal if availability isn't reduced.
The organisation told 1 NEWS that by 2025, it wants to see a few hundred tobacco retailers around the country. This would mean phasing out about 6000 to 8000 outlets that currently sell the products.
The petition will aim to reduce the selling of combustible tobacco, which includes cigarettes and pouched tobacco, because they are some of the most damaging of the products. It's not aimed at vapes.
Cancer Society chief executive Lucy Elwood said current laws don’t do enough to protect people from the deadly product.
“It would be impossible to launch cigarettes onto the market today, yet we continue to allow the tobacco industry to stock them wherever it chooses.
“Tobacco is sold alongside everyday grocery items like bread and milk and where children frequently go,” Elwood said.
It’s estimated tobacco kills about 11 Kiwis every day, according to a study by the Waitematā District Health Board.
A study by the University of Otago estimates about half of New Zealand’s secondary schools have at least one tobacco outlet within half a kilometre, with more tobacco retailers found in low-income communities where smoking rates are highest.
"We support controlling the location and density of retailers to ensure they are not concentrated in low socio-economic areas or near schools," the Cancer Society said.
Elwood said while there has been a steady decline in smoking and tobacco use in the past 40 years, it remains a driver of health inequalities because Māori and Pasifika communities tend to use it at much higher rates than other groups.
“Tobacco has been around for a long time and caused an immeasurable amount of heartbreak for families. We cannot let this continue.
“We need New Zealanders to get behind us and sign this petition so we can treat tobacco like the killer it is.”
The organisation said while there could be "some pushback" to its petition, regulation would create an "even playing field" for retailers. Currently, it's up to a retailer to decide if it wants to be tobacco-free.
"Retailers who have already stopped selling tobacco say they no longer worry about being robbed, and they don’t have to pay out large insurance premiums for tobacco stock."
There is currently a lack of data on the impact of tobacco-free retailing on profits and customer numbers in New Zealand, with some dairy shops also reporting being heavily reliant on tobacco sales.
A study of Canterbury dairy shops found dairy owners reported their profits and community support had remained the same after they had stopped selling tobacco products.
Another University of Otago study said it was a myth tobacco drove significant foot traffic into convenience stores. It also found reducing access to tobacco supported those who wanted to quit.
Tobacco giant Philip Morris International, one of the country's largest distributors of the products, and the New Zealand Association of Convenience stores did not respond to 1 NEWS by the time of publication.