printer icon
Zahra Champion

NZ should move to low nicotine cigarettes, BiotechNZ says

The Ministry of Health’s move toward a smoke free Aotearoa by 2025, genetic engineering and genetic technologies for low nicotine cigarettes could play a major part in ensuring the success a leading biotech expert says. 

Government set a goal in 2011 for less than five percent of New Zealanders to be smokers by 2025. Nearly 85 percent of New Zealanders are currently smoke free.  

Several techniques are mentioned in the ministry’s 2025 smoke free Aotearoa action plan. But only genetic engineering and technologies provide a means to produce very low nicotine tobacco at the scale needed to break nicotine’s addictive cycle, BiotechNZ executive director Dr Zahra Champion says. 

“BiotechNZ applauds the Ministry of Health to highlight genetic engineering as a method to reduce nicotine in the 2025 plan.

“Nicotine is highly addictive and both national and international research shows that extremely low nicotine tobacco is a means to reduce smoking to achieve Smokefree Aotearoa 2025. 

“Specialised tobacco crops should be grown here in New Zealand, instead of being imported. This not only meets Aotearoa-New Zealand’s smoke free transition but also as exports to other countries to help them achieve a smoke free world.

“With the Associate Minister of Health,  Dr Ayesha Verrall, completing her PhD in tuberculosis epidemiology at the University of Otago, we look forward to the science and evidence-led approach on this major issue facing New Zealand.”

Strong evidence indicates that removing the nicotine from tobacco makes it unattractive to many smokers.

Dr Champion says tobacco use is the single biggest cause of premature death and ill health in New Zealand. An estimated 4500 New Zealanders die from smoking-related illnesses each year.

“The health impacts linked with tobacco use include lung cancer, respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease,” she says.

“Smoking-related illnesses disproportionately affect Māori and Pacific people and contribute to significant health inequities. Māori women have some of the highest mortality rates for lung cancer in the world.

“Smoking is not just harmful, but also highly addictive because of the effects of nicotine. The government collects about $2.1 billion in excise taxes each year on tobacco.

“We believe de-nicotising cigarettes could significantly reduce the appeal of cigarettes for existing smokers.

“We know there is an illegal market for tobacco in New Zealand. Previous tax increases may have contributed to increases in smuggling of tobacco.

“It is likely that the measures proposed will increase requirements for compliance and enforcement relating to illegally imported smoked tobacco products.”

For further information contact Dr Zahra Champion on 021 899 732 or NZTech’s media specialist, Make Lemonade editor-in-chief Kip Brook on 0275 030188

Zahra Champion Zahra is Executive Director of BIOTechNZ and is working to bring together a national community of biotech innovators, investors, researchers, educators and policy makers; and connecting this community to global biotech ecosystems.