The latest statistics from the New Zealand Health Survey show a promising drop in overall smoking rates in New Zealand but highlight the ongoing issue of vaping says the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation New Zealand.
"It is fantastic to see the overall drop in smoking rates and particularly the decrease in smoking amongst wahine Māori from 24.1% to 18.2%. This reveals that there has been positive progress towards the Smokefree 2025 goal," says Asthma and Respiratory Foundation Chief Executive Letitia Harding.
However, when you dig into the data there are still areas of concern. Smoking rates increased slightly for Māori men and significantly for Pacific women, with rates remaining static for Pacific men. For young people aged between 15 to 24 years old, rates stayed largely unchanged after falling for the past 10 years. "We need to know more about what’s happening in these groups and it would be good to see specific statistics for the 15 to 17 year age bracket, as this was included last year," she says.
Another area of concern is the ongoing increase in daily vaping rates. "These rates continue to climb dramatically, particularly amongst young New Zealanders aged between 15 and 24 years old and amongst Māori women," says Letitia. The rate of Māori women vaping more than doubled from 10% to 21.2%, while amongst people aged 15 to 24 years the rates grew from 12.4% to 18.6%.
"Vaping has been promoted by the Ministry of Health as a smoking cessation tool. If it is working as such, then we should see the rates of smoking falling across the board, but that is not what the statistics show. It is particularly worrying that youth smoking rates are static after falling for many years, while vaping rates continue to rise rapidly in this group," Letitia says. "This indicates young people are needing a lot more support. The Foundation just completed a pilot programme working with youth to educate and help quit vaping in the Tairāwhiti region, which we hope to roll out to other regions next year."
The Health Survey also gives insights into asthma rates in New Zealand. Adult asthma rates have remained high and largely unchanged for the past 10 years. In 2021/2022, 11.4% of adults were using asthma medication, which equates to 474,000 New Zealanders.
For children aged up to 14 years, there has been a noticeable and sustained drop in asthma particularly in the 2 to 4 year old group. This is thought to be due to the impact of Covid lockdowns which reduced the prevalence of infectious respiratory diseases and improved overall respiratory health for pre-schoolers. The overall rate of asthma in children under 14 in 2021/2022 was 11.4%, which equated to 96,000 children.