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Cigarette smuggling will worsen if vaping not promoted

If the Government’s smokefree action plan does not adequately elevate nicotine vaping as the much safer alternative, then cigarette smuggling will become a bigger problem at New Zealand’s border, says a leading Kiwi Tobacco Harm Reduction advocate.

Her comments follow a media investigation which revealed Customs is currently seizing around 125,000 smuggled cigarettes and 155 kilograms of loose tobacco every month.

New Zealand Customs describes it as a lucrative market. In fact, it’s thought to be eight times more profitable than cocaine – and one which has attracted organised crime. Large scale, commercial-grade cigarette smuggling operators are now well established.

It’s spurred on by the fact that New Zealand has the most expensive cigarettes for legal purchase in the world.

“With the Government set to get even tougher on the appeal and availability of legal cigarettes, there is a concern it will only lead to more illicit cigarette smuggling. It doesn’t have to be the case though, particularly if smokers are activity encouraged to switch to safer nicotine products,” says Nancy Loucas, co-director of the Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA).

Associate Health Minster Dr Ayesha Verrall is now finalising the Government’s Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan after releasing a discussion document for public consultation which closed on 31 May.

AVCA is highly supportive of getting tough on combustible tobacco given 5,000 Kiwis continue to die every year from smoking-related illnesses. It’s concerned, however, that the discussion document was light on vaping’s key role in achieving smokefree. It has pushed for vaping – the world’s most effective smoking cessation tool – to feature more in the final smokefree action plan.

“We’ve got to get more Kiwis successfully off the cancer sticks in the first place, otherwise many will head to the black market. If we can switch them from cigarettes to vaping, not only will it save countless lives, but it will put a hole in organised crime,” she says.

The head of AVCA says the latest media revelation exposing the sheer scale of cigarette smuggling completely discredits recent claims by University of Otago public health experts published on 27 May.

Titled ‘Illicit tobacco trade and the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Goal: Arguments and Evidence’, the research analysis concluded that ‘NZ’s illicit tobacco market is small and unlikely to grow substantially.’

“We knew they were wrong then, but they’ve now been proven woefully out of touch. They argue getting tougher on legal smoking won’t make much difference at the border. AVCA argues it will be an absolute nightmare for Customs, unless many more smokers are actively encouraged to switch to vaping,” says Nancy Loucas.

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