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Letter | The need for sustainable regulation of tobacco products

In this letter published in the British Medical Journal, ASPIRE2025 researchers discuss New Zealand’s new Psychoactive Substances Act and say that few of the restrictions in this new act apply to tobacco sales in New Zealand. Their letter reads as follows:

Newberry and colleagues draw attention to New Zealand’s new Psychoactive Substances Act (1), a novel and potentially more sustainable approach to the regulation of these substances. Key aspects of this law are the onus put on drug manufacturers to show that their products pose only a low risk of harm and the stringent restrictions on the sale and supply of these substances.

However, the authors incorrectly state that this new law restricts the sale of psychoactive substances “in a similar way” to the sale of tobacco. Apart from purchasers needing to be over the age of 18,  none of the other restrictions on sales in the new act apply to tobacco sales in New Zealand. Retailers do not need a licence to sell tobacco products and can employ people under 18 years to sell such products. Tobacco products can be sold from dairies, convenience stores, supermarkets, garages, temporary structures (such as marquees), and places where alcohol is sold. In addition, local authorities cannot introduce restrictions on the location of retailers of tobacco products or proximity constraints in relation to other sellers. Furthermore, unlike “party pills,”(2) new tobacco products can be  introduced without the need to show a regulatory authority and expert advisory committee that the new product poses a low risk of harm.

This seems paradoxical, given that tobacco products meet most definitions of a psychoactive substance, cause many orders of magnitude more preventable morbidity and mortality than party pills, and the government aims to achieve a smoke-free Aotearoa (New Zealand) by 2025.

But at least the new act provides a potential road map for fresh thinking around controlling the introduction of new products and the retail supply of substances like tobacco (and alcohol), which pose much greater burdens on health than party pills. So, despite the incongruent regulatory approach being taken for different psychoactive substances in New Zealand and elsewhere, public health workers should be grateful for such developments, and should carefully evaluate the impact of such new laws and their potential for enabling the control of more important substances.

(1) Newberry J, Wodak A, Sellman D, Robinson G. New Zealand’s regulation of new psychoactive substances. BMJ 2014;348:g1534. (13 February.)

(2) Edwards R. Smart party pill law makes tobacco and alcohol regulation look pathetic. Public Health Expert, 2013. https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2013/09/24/smartparty-pill-law-makes-tobacco-alcohol-regulation-look-pathetic/.

To view the letter, click here

Citation: Edwards R, Wilson N. (2014). Sustainable regulation of psychoactive substances – but what about tobacco? (Letter) BMJ 2014;348:g2033.

For further information, please contact:

Professor Richard Edwards
Unversity of Otago , Wellington
email: richard.edwards@otago.ac.nz