BiotechNZ Moves for Low Nicotine Cigarettes

Genetic engineering and technologies in producing low nicotine cigarettes could play a major role in ensuring the Ministry of Health’s move toward a smoke-free Aotearoa by 2025.

In 2011 the Government set a goal for New Zealand to be 95 percent smoke-free by 2025. Nearly 85 percent of New Zealanders are currently smoke-free.

Several techniques are mentioned in the ministry’s action plan. However, BiotechNZ Executive Director Dr Zahra Champion said only genetic engineering and technologies can produce low nicotine tobacco on the scale needed to break nicotine’s addictive cycle.

“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 shows removing the nicotine from tobacco makes it unappealing to many smokers.

Tobacco is the biggest cause of premature death and poor health in New Zealand, noted Dr Champion, with an estimated 4500 Kiwis dying from smoking-related illness per year.

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

“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.”