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Big gains in life expectancy and reduction in inequalities if tobacco phased out by 2020

Medical xray

Friday 13 August 2010 9:03am

Māori would experience significant gains in life expectancy of about five years, and non-Māori three years, if tobacco sales were ended by 2020 and the gains projected to 2040, according to latest research from the University of Otago, Wellington.

This is compared to life expectancy if smoking rates stayed the same as they were in the 2006 census.

The latest research into the impact on tobacco and health has been published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

“This is a win-win situation,” says lead researcher Professor Blakely. “Making New Zealand free from tobacco sales not only improves everyone’s life expectancy, but it also substantially reduces health inequalities between Māori and non-Māori.”

Currently just under 50% of Māori smoke, and around 22% of the whole population, causing 4500-5000 tobacco-related deaths annually.

Professor Blakely says there is growing momentum amongst the public and politicians that it’s time to end the tobacco epidemic. The Māori Affairs select committee is about to report to Parliament with recommendations, following its inquiry into the effect of the tobacco industry on Māori.

“Phasing out the sale of tobacco by 2020 would be the single most important and feasible action to reduce Māori mortality and ethnic disparities in this country,” says Professor Blakely.

Professor Richard Edwards, co-author and lead researcher on projects looking at how to end tobacco sales in New Zealand states: “We know enough about how to reduce smoking to start a ten-year countdown to zero tobacco sales.”

“A ‘sinking lid’ in tobacco imports, accompanied by massive increases in tobacco cessation activity and other supportive measures to promote quitting amongst smokers and to stop children starting, will see New Zealand effectively tobacco-free by 2020.”

A companion paper in this issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal presents trends in survival and lifetables, necessary for the above projections of life expectancy to 2040. Lead author of this paper, Dr Kristie Carter, reports that the differences in life expectancy between current and never smokers was around seven years during 1996-99 – the most recent period with the necessary data.

If nothing is done, and smoking persists at current rates it will become an even greater constraint on life expectancy and reduction of health inequalities in future, Professor Blakely says.

This research arises from the New Zealand Census-Mortality Study, funded by both the Health Research Council and the Ministry of Health.

For further information, contact

Professor Tony Blakely
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Mob 021 918 608


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