Tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food are responsible for almost a third of Aotearoa New Zealand’s preventable health burden, yet a new survey out shows political parties are widely split on whether they would support evidence-informed policies that limit the harm of these products.
The parties currently in parliament were asked about their level of support for 12 priority policies that Health Aotearoa Coalition (HCA) expert panels identified will make a difference to health outcomes. These policies are outlined in HCA’s Prevention Brief. The responses are assessed in the latest Briefing published by the Public Health Communication Centre - Junk food, alcohol and tobacco - where the parties stand: Election 2023.
The answers have been rated from very supportive to not supportive at all with the responses falling largely in line with the right/left political spectrum. (See Briefing for table)
HCA co-chairperson Professor Boyd Swinburn says governments have dragged their feet on alcohol policy for many years apart from the recent amendment to the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 which gave communities greater say on alcohol access through Local Alcohol Policies. “Te Pāti Māori and the Green party are very supportive of the HCA priority policies and want even stronger policies and harm reduction programmes for alcohol. Labour sat neutrally on two of the three policies proposed. ACT strongly opposed all proposed measures, whereas National failed to respond on this question.”
On tobacco and vaping, this Labour Government has passed world-leading legislation to reduce the prevalence and inequities in smoking, as well as catch up legislation to try and halt the explosion of vaping. And it is the tobacco and vaping policies which received the broadest support across political parties in the survey. “ACT was the only party to oppose both action areas including amending law to better protect our rangatahi from vaping related harm, while National supported even stronger polices on vaping outlets.”
Policies such as protecting our children from exposure to all forms of unhealthy food marketing received support from the Greens and Te Pāti Māori with Labour sitting once again in a neutral position. However, these policies were firmly opposed by both National and ACT. Professor Swinburn says ultra processed foods are driving the obesity epidemic and many other diet-related diseases yet substantive policies to address this huge contribution to ill-health and health inequities among children and adults have not been implemented for over the last 15 years.
Professor Swinburn says it is time for political parties to put aside their ideology and follow the evidence which shows prevention policies for health such as limiting advertising of harmful products can save lives and health dollars. “The outlook for effective prevention policies looks bleak under a National/ACT government, especially if ACT holds considerable sway. However, there are examples of right-wing governments internationally implementing progressive prevention policies, so we will still be calling for evidence-based public health action on harm products no matter which parties form the next government.”