Plain common sense: reduce smoking, reduce heart disease
Posted: 9th July 2014 | 3 commentsIf you go into Peter Pan Superette in Merivale, behind the bored young man serving you there’s a plain white lockable cabinet. Surrounding the cabinet, looking a little folorn, are poorly stacked papers, lighters, lighter fluid, maybe even the odd electronic cigarette. Every second person coming in asks for the cabinet to be opened for a 30gm or 50gm packet of tobacco. They hand over $25 or $45 respectively, often made up of an excessive amount of change, and leave. The cabinet snaps shut.
When I was growing up in Christchurch, there was no cabinet. You could buy single cigarettes from our dairy for 25c or packets of 10. The dairy owner would often be smoking as he served you. Kids would come in with $10 and buy the cigarettes for their parents. By the time I was a teen, I’d sit in Caffiends with my other angst-ridden friends smoking single cigarettes and drinking the Depth Charger, an 8-shot coffee. We’ve come a long way, and the smoking rates have reduced considerably as a result.
There are still some hurdles to go. 4,300-4,700 people die from smoking related illnesses each year in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Māori smoking rate, particularly for Māori women, has stubbornly refused to plunge alongside the general smoking rate. Yet we can be proud of the progress we have made, particularly with youth smoking rates’ dramatic plunge to 6 percent.
The next fight is for plain packaging of cigarettes. Cigarette packets are a powerful marketing tool that are designed to attract young people. The tobacco industry spends US$29 million a day on marketing; the package is a key part of the marketing. So whilst unbranding cigarette packs won’t stop everyone from smoking, it will give our tamariki one less reason to start and remove one tool from the tobacco industry.
On 11 February2014, the Smokefree Environments (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Amendment Bill passed its first reading by 118 votes to one. Minister Tariana Turia was clear that the legislation will remove a promotional channel for the tobacco industry, “In essence, the decision to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products in New Zealand is about the branding – it takes away the last means of promoting tobacco as a desirable product.” On 11 August 2014 the Select Committee has to report back to the House on the legislation. The tobacco industry is lining up the big guns; they’ve already taken Australia to the World Trade Organisation for their own plain packaging legislation. This should only prove to us what an important marketing tool the packaging is to them. It’s not going to be an easy fight, but it is an important one if we want a Smokefree NZ by 2025.
Doing everything we can to reduce smoking related harm is also essential if we are to reduce the instances of heart disease or cardiovascular disease in our communities. You’ll recall from last week that heart disease is caused by the build up of fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries, a process known as atherosclerosis. The chemicals you take in when you are smoking contribute carcinogens to this process. And again, this means that the artery may become so narrow that it can’t deliver enough blood oxygen to your heart.
Quitting smoking is one thing you can do about heart disease. Supporting community and government efforts to reduce smoking in Aotearoa New Zealand is part of helping others quit. That all fits nicely with the other changes you can make:
Controlling high blood pressure
Reducing your cholesterol level
Being physically active
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
Controlling your blood glucose if you have diabetes
Eating a healthy, balanced diet and only drinking moderate amounts of alcohol.
So keep an eye on the legislation as it goes through Parliament, and let your MP know that you support plain packaging. The tobacco industry wants your children and mokopuna to smoke; they don’t care what happens to them. But you do, and you have a voice.
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