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Tobacco policy in New Zealand could leave one with a touch of motion sickness as the country lurches back and forth in its effort to reduce smoking to five percent by 2025. Researcher Marewa Glover joins GFN Interviews to discuss the latest surprising shift and results of her new study on how New Zealand adults who smoke understand novel tobacco ‘endgame’ policies.

Dr. Marewa Glover
Director, Centre of Research Excellence
Indigenous Sovereignty & Smoking, New Zealand


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Brent Stafford: Hi, I'm Brent Stafford and welcome to another edition of RegWatch on GFN.TV. Following the regulation of combustible tobacco products and nicotine vapes in the country of New Zealand is likely to lead to motion sickness as the country lurches back and forth in its effort to reduce smoking to 5% by 2025. Several years ago, New Zealand made an abrupt turn, announcing new policies that embrace nicotine vapes as an essential tool to quit smoking, while also at the same time introducing what was then a world-first law banning tobacco sales for future generations. But that's not the end of the story. Joining us today to help unpack what's going on in New Zealand is Dr. Marewa Glover. Director of the Center of Research Excellence and Indigenous Sovereignty and Smoking. Dr. Glover, it's great to see you and thanks for coming back on the show.

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Marewa Glover: Thanks, it's great to see you again too.

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Brent Stafford: Now, it seems that New Zealand just can't help itself from making news when it comes to combustible tobacco and nicotine vapes. Dr. Glover, before we discuss your latest research, let's walk our viewers through some of the backstory. Tell us about what happened.

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Marewa Glover: From about 2015, vaping was being picked up and increasing among adults who smoked, people who travelled overseas and people, there were vape shops starting to open and there was no regulation. The Ministry of Health tried to say that they were banned and that it was covered under the existing smoke-free law, but of course this was a brand new product and it wasn't. So there were people who were arguing for, myself included, that this was a harm reduction approach, that this could be what we've been looking for. And there were people who were against. And so there was actually a very hotly contested debate in the media and in the science realm, in the policy realm for about five years and lots of select committee hearings. And then the government passed regulation.

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Brent Stafford: And that regulation could be construed as being pro-vaping, would it not?

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Marewa Glover: Absolutely. We regulated vaping and the government encouraged people who smoked to switch to vaping. Government-funded quit services were asked to offer to help people. If they were coming for cessation support, encourage them to switch to vaping if they couldn't stop any other way. But the regulation... did dampen it. So vape shops were helping people, were talking about, yes, you can use this to quit, and the regulation actually stopped them from doing it. It said you're not allowed to do that, only government-funded cessation services are allowed to do that. You can tell people about the product and what it costs, but you're not to go into that cessation realm at all or talk about. There was a lot of information, I mean they even cut shut down, the we used to have vape expos and the consumer groups would get together and have groups on Facebook so a lot of sort of laws came in around that, sort of as if it was advertising and so to stop people talking about vaping unless they were approved.

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Brent Stafford: Yeah, that's what happened in Canada too as well in 2018. I've always had a mind that this was about destroying the culture.

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Marewa Glover: Yeah, that's right. There was a culture. It was a very supportive, consumer-driven, peer-to-peer support, helping other people to stop smoking, introducing vaping. And that was just incredibly important in vaping taking off in New Zealand and in the mass quitting that we still see today that was started there.

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Brent Stafford: So let's make a turn ourselves here, if not to prove the point that New Zealand is a bit wackadoodle, is that these pro-vaping policies were proposed and instituted by the Labour Party, which of course is famously progressive.

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Marewa Glover: Actually, the regulation was all underway in terms of drafting and select committee process under the previous government. So the national-led government, from 2015 and all of the debate and everything, it did lead to draft regulation. It was being considered. Then there was an election. And the Labour-led government got in and the regulation went back to the drawing board, but then they did end up passing it. The Ministry of Health, they were supporting this and there was even a planned campaign, a mass media campaign to teach people about vaping and its role in helping people to stop smoking. When we had the change of government and the Ardern-led government got in, so the ministry had their position, we were going ahead with regulating vaping, smoking cessation services were beginning to support people to switch to vaping. So it was all the horses bolted, okay? And there was a lot of support for this. There were a lot of people stopping smoking. It was clear a lot of people in the media right across New Zealand and in all groups. The Labour-led government went ahead with it, but they did take the regulation back to the drawing board and they dampened it down. So they took out oral nicotine pouches. They banned the oral forms of these risk-reduced products. And yeah, otherwise it went through.

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Brent Stafford: Now, that's not the whole story, though, because what happened next? They came out with a law, which is then the world first law of the tobacco generations issue, which, of course, we see now that the UK some years later is now jumping in into the fire with the same legislation. So take us to that point where they were moving to ban combustible tobacco.

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Marewa Glover: The second term of the Ardern-led government, they had a clear majority and, of course, we had the pandemic in here. You know, the pandemic and COVID really shifted the Overton window in terms of what governments could do to people. And it really opened the door to these end game policies, which proponents of them have been talking about in tobacco control for over 10 years. We certainly knew about it and I guess just never thought that something so extreme, such an extreme measure would ever be passed into law. Under lockdown, you saw what happened and it opened the door for extreme policies, regardless of what would happen to the population, the consumers that would be affected, the society. And they passed it.

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Brent Stafford: If you could, describe for us the top line particulars of how this law was supposed to work.

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Marewa Glover: There were three main policies, and that was the real kicker was taking nicotine in smoked tobacco products and cigarettes, and we have roll your own tobacco here, down to a very low level. And before the law actually went through, we didn't know what that low level was going to be. That wasn't announced. But when it passed, it was 0.08 milligrams per gram of tobacco. This is very, very low. This is sub-functional. There will be no hit. It won't work for people. So the other kicker in it was that from April 1st 2025, that would be all you could buy. That would be the only tobacco that you could buy in New Zealand, three hours by plane to our nearest neighbor. So, you know, we don't have the same cross-border black market illicit trade that other countries in most of the world really have. Yeah, so denicotinization is what I call it, and the age ban people are talking about. So this was that from 2027, at the moment, our legal age to purchase tobacco is R18, and that would go up to R19, and then the year after, R20, and so on. So anyone born after January 1st 2009 would never be able to buy tobacco legally be able to buy cigarettes. So that was a radical, untried, untested, very little research on that either. And the other one was to introduce a full licensing system of tobacco retailers, where they would have to apply to the Ministry of Health and be approved and meet a whole lot of criteria and be approved as a tobacco retailer. And the number of retailers across the country was going to be reduced from 6,000+ to only 600. When the law passed, it was 599. And in a land, a nation, the land size of Japan, with 600 retailers spread across the country, that would make accessing smoked tobacco products, pretty difficult for some people, particularly in rural areas, or you just happen to live way away from one of those stores.

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Brent Stafford: Well, I mean, if less nicotine than you could find by scraping an ashtray with a spoon, why would you even want to go buy any? So that's crazy. How come all those hoops, how come it's jumping through all these hoops? Why don't they just ban combustible tobacco?

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Marewa Glover: Well, it pretty much was that. Effectively, the denicotinization was pretty much a ban. I mean, why would people go, they'll buy the first packet and it's useless. And we've seen these products, 22nd century cigarettes, and other companies have tried to produce these sub-functional, very low nicotine cigarettes and sell them. And they've always failed at market, always. I mean, 22nd century appears to be failing. Their share price has gone right down. It wasn't made public, but the government entered into an agreement with 22nd century for them to supply. So a monopoly agreement, basically. So there's a lot more that's come out since the new government has come in.

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Brent Stafford: Dr. Glover, you just released new research on how New Zealand adults who smoke understand novel tobacco endgame policies. We have a short clip from a GFN 5 video you released last year. Let's have a listen.

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GFN5 from Marewa: Surveys of public opinion are often conducted to gauge support for proposed law changes. But how valid is it to ask people to give their opinion on something they know nothing about nor have any experience of. We use the affective propositional model for our theoretical framework and discourse analysis to identify snippets of talk that reveal the thought process people go through when asked to express an opinion on a novel concept. Some people express their opinion about the intent of the policy instead. but they weren't asked for an opinion on the intent or end goal. Ethically, policy analysis of extraordinary prohibitions should consider scientific evidence of potential negative consequences. Participants expected these to include a worsening of mental health conditions, people switching to more harmful substances.

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Brent Stafford: So that's quite fascinating. So tell us more about what this research was about.

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Marewa Glover: Well, exactly that. I was interested in how people who are being polled could be expected to make an informed or give an informed opinion when these three policies have never been implemented anywhere in the world. And there's no research on what actually happened as a consequence and they were just completely novel. I thought it would be like asking somebody, how are you like living on Mars, so being a past policy analyst it offended me frankly that, the research wasn't being conducted to inform policy analysis and the politicians, that what they were being presented with were surveys being done by the very strong proponents of these policies and nobody else. There was no balance. And there was modeling, which is useful, but crystal ball gazing. And that was it. The politicians were not being well informed. There were very biased views being pushed and everybody else, well, nobody else was asked. Nobody else was listened to if they even tried to say when the retailers presented to the MPs during select committee processes that they were treated just abominably. And the Members of Parliament just ridiculed them and well, of course you would say that you know your industry or whatever. So I think you know I saw the policy process really break down and the lack of evidence is what really got me. There's just the lack of evidence people were not able to make an informed opinion which is what I found. We had our participants of the Voices of the 5% study. So we polled them, we asked them, but we are doing in-depth qualitative research. So we gathered a lot of information from them. It was so insightful and using this model we used where you could almost hear people thinking. They were thinking aloud. And so it enabled us to... sort of, by the thinking aloud, see them step through this process of, do I know anything about this? They'd ask questions. The first thing was some kind of emotional what, and worse I won't say on camera, and just shock surprise and then they would go into do you know do they actually know anything about this look in their own file mental filing cabinet, have they any experience of this does anyone they know have any experience of this so, maybe it's like smoking those fake cigarettes they smoke in the movies smoking lawn clippings. And so they would search in their mind for knowledge, experience, come up with nothing, start to think, what might it be like? It might be like drinking zero alcohol beer or something. And then they began to think through the positive and negative consequences and they listed quite a lot of those, a lot more than what was being discussed in the media or in any of the papers that were being presented to the politicians. So it was fascinating. I think it really proves to me that the people need to be listened to. The consumers particularly who really know the product and they know what it is to live in that realm, you know, smoking, vaping, etc. And these people who don't know that are making these decisions about that are going to affect their lives. It's so important that consumers and stakeholders, all of them, the retailers, the small families that run the local corner store need to be listened to. And policy analysts and politicians should be considering everybody, not just the proponents of a particular policy.

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Brent Stafford: Okay, everyone, now hold on to your seats as there was an election in late 2023. And after six years in office, Labour lost power and a new centre-right coalition took over government. And to the shock of everyone, they scrapped the tobacco ban laws. I mean, amazing. So, Dr. Glover, did they repeal everything?

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Marewa Glover: They repealed the denicotinization, everything about that. They repealed the reduction in tobacco retail stores and that they would have to apply to be one and to be approved. That's all gone. And they repealed the age ban. That's all gone. All gone.

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Brent Stafford: Wow. Well, how do you feel about that?

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Marewa Glover: But I was surprised as well. I mean, I think in tobacco control, usually you see a little step forward and it never goes backwards. It's always going to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. The slippery slope, as some people refer to it. And so it was pretty amazing to watch. I was completely blindsided by that. I had my research on what the effects were. I was thinking, oh, this is going to be really interesting and important to do research on what the consequences will be because it will be the first time in the world. But, you know, moving on now.

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Brent Stafford: I'm just shocked by this initial target date of 5% by 2025. And here we are all this ping-ponging back and forth with policies in New Zealand and 2025's next year. Is this a realistic goal for New Zealand? You know, what do you think is going to happen?

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Marewa Glover: You know... Maybe 20 years ago, 15 years ago, I didn't think 5% was a realistic goal. Yes, Sweden are nearly there, but they had snus and we didn't. We didn't have anything until vaping. I am absolutely... Blown away. We are at 6.8%. 6.8% smoking daily at December 2023 statistics, Ministry of Health statistics. Same survey they've been running for a decade. So it seems, it is realistic. And if vaping continues to be available, accessible, cheaper, and then people will keep switching to it. I mean, the misinformation, though, the lies is really doing damage there. The anti-vaping people are really putting people off, and that's a shame because they're just going to continue to smoke. And they're all health, supposedly health groups, and some parents and teachers. But I think we could get there. I do. Sweden, I still think Sweden will get there. The other thing about this new government, which I didn't mention, was that they are very keen to repeal the ban, well, not repeal because the previous government took the oral nicotine pouches, or actually they banned them in the law. This new government is going to revoke that. So we will be able to have the oral nicotine pouches on the market in New Zealand again. They were selling. Ardern's government banned them, and this new government wants to bring them in. They want all adult smokers to have access to the full range of risk-reduced products, anything that works for them to help them stop smoking. So, yep, we could definitely get there.

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Brent Stafford: Dr. Glover, you'll be hosting a workshop titled Smoking Cessation in the 21st Century at the Global Forum on Nicotine, the annual conference on safer nicotine products and tobacco harm reduction. #GFN24 runs from this June 13 to 15 in Warsaw, Poland. Let me ask you, Dr. Glover, why is an event like GFN important?

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Marewa Glover: It's important because it brings together consumers and academics, scientists and industry, a full range of stakeholders, which is what I was talking about before with policy analysis. You need to hear all the voices, all the stakeholders involved. And Global Forum on Nicotine brings them together and brings That's important for keeping your mind open and testing yourself, your own biases, and are you getting sort of sucked into a bubble and never hearing anything else, which I think a lot of people in tobacco control have done. They've cut themselves off from anything that doesn't confirm their own bias, basically. So it's very important. And it's a great conference. My workshop, I hope people will come to, they're coming to GFN, is really challenging the embedded nature of a very old, theory and the gold was kind of the gold theory of smoking cessation and nobody's ever moved on from it. It's just embedded in all the training courses, but it's defunct and it's time to move on. We'd be far more effective if people were working off the latest theory. So I just want to introduce that and encourage people to think a little bit differently about how to help people stop smoking.

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Brent Stafford: Final question, Dr. Glover, what advice do you have for policymakers in the UK as they embark on their tobacco prohibition strategy?

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Marewa Glover: Balance. And I would suggest calling for a minority report. Actually seek out the views of people who think differently from the very strong proponents of policies who have flooded the media they're flooding the scientific literature look for the minority report, make sure that you hear from consumers all the stakeholders and and have very good analysts who can give you the pros and cons, basic 101 policy analysis, not this kind of ideologically trapped and driven system we're in now.