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Experts Identify Flaws

Tobacco harm reduction experts have identified serious flaws in the New Zealand government’s plans to achieve its Smokefree 2025 goal

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Tobacco harm reduction experts have identified serious flaws in the New Zealand government’s plans to achieve its Smokefree 2025 goal. The government has focussed on modelling the denicotinisation of tobacco due to claims by its Ministry of Health funded academics from Australia and New Zealand that this will have the greatest impact.

To achieve its 2025 target, the New Zealand government is set to allow ministers to:

  • Drastically reduce the number of retail outlets that can sell tobacco
  • Make it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone born after a certain date, to produce a ‘smokefree generation’
  • Remove most of the nicotine from tobacco ‘to reduce its appeal and addictive effects’

The review of the government’s modelling was conducted by:

  • Clive Bates
  • Ben Youdan
  • Ruth Bonita
  • George Laking
  • David Sweanor, and
  • Robert Beaglehole

The group found “a number of significant flaws” because “the modelling is based on a fundamental and incorrect assumption that denicotinisation would reduce smoking by 85% over five years compared to business-as-usual.”

They continue: “The assumption, used as a key input to the model, is derived from a misinterpretation of a well-conducted randomised controlled trial of smoking cessation interventions that included very low nicotine content (VLNC) cigarettes in New Zealand in 2009-10.”

They say that the problem is that the trial design bears little relation to a population-wide denicotinisation regulatory intervention and its findings are not at all transferable to a model of the legislation, covering:

  • Volunteers who had already called the Quitline were given pharmacological and behavioural support
  • The intervention group were also given free VLNC cigarettes and instructed to smoke them if they wanted to
  • The trial intervention lasted only eight weeks and its impact assessed at six months.
  • The trial does not include the most likely responses to the denicotinisation measure: switching to vaping, accessing an expanded illicit market, or workarounds by consumers or producers

The authors of the review say the modelling, “makes ill-founded assumptions based on a misinterpretation of a smoking cessation trial in which denicotinised cigarettes were provided as an enhancement to standard smoking cessation interventions to people who were already making a quit attempt.

“It does not reflect the real-world dynamics of the population-wide regulatory intervention it is supposed to represent.

“It fails to take into account illicit trade in regular tobacco and other ‘workarounds’. This could be substantial and must be incorporated into any modelling of the denicotinisation measure.

“Modelling the legislation for policymaking purposes should more accurately reflect the real-world processes involved (e.g. illicit trade, workarounds, switching to vapes) and place greater emphasis on transparency of the assumptions used, sensitivity testing and scenario analyses.”

The group recommends that the Kiwi administration “reconsiders its confidence in the policy assessment and impact analysis that underpins Cabinet support for denicotinisation”.


  • Review of: Tobacco endgame intervention impacts on health gains and Māori:non-Māori health inequity: a simulation study of the Aotearoa-New Zealand Tobacco Action Plan -

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Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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