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‘Zombie arguments’ that Aotearoa New Zealand’s smoke-free measures will boost illicit tobacco trade are false according to public health experts.

In the latest Briefing from the Public Health Communication Centre, University of Auckland Professor Chris Bullen and colleagues explain how ‘zombie arguments’ – arguments that refuse to die despite lacking logical or empirical foundation – are being used to justify repealing NZ’s smokefree legislation.

Professor Bullen says claims of an increase in a black market have long been touted by the tobacco industry when it sees its products under threat. “What we are seeing is politicians in the new coalition Government, echoed by some media commentators, repeating tobacco industry arguments that measures in smokefree legislation, particularly retailer reduction and denicotinisation, would boost illicit tobacco trade.”

“Typically, these zombie arguments appeal to “common sense”, for example, Prime Minister Luxon claimed it is a “natural reality” that decreasing retailer numbers would increase illicit tobacco trade,” says Professor Bullen. However, he says the evidence strongly suggests the opposite is true.

“We’ve laid out the numerous studies which show that the proportion of tobacco products that are illicit in Aotearoa has not increased since the adoption of the Smoke-free Aotearoa goal in 2011. In fact, the absolute size of the illicit tobacco market has declined over this period, particularly recently from 2019-2022.”

Professor Bullen says if this government wants to ensure the death of the illicit tobacco market, they need to fully implement the smokefree legislation. “That would reduce the number of smokers and demand for the product.” He says NZ Customs should also be supported to continue their effective border control, keeping illicit tobacco products out of the country.


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