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New Zealand has a target to be smoke-free by 2025, and Dr Natalie Walker from the University of Auckland says a powerful aid to hit that goal could lie in the humble kowhai tree.

“If you have more tools in your toolbox it’s easier,” she says.

Dr Walker says the chemical cytisine is more effective than nicotine replacement products like patches. It could also particularly help Māori who have higher smoking rates and higher rates of tobacco-related deaths than non-Māori. 

“The alkaloid is found in a lot of native plants in New Zealand, so for Māori, there’s a connection to that medication because of that,” Dr Walker says.

Māori already use kowhai in traditional rongoā medicine to treat colds and sore throats, cuts, bruises, swellings, and skin diseases.

Dr Walker’s research found 12 percent of people who took cytisine pills weren’t smoking six months later. This is compared to the 8 percent who took the Government-funded medicine Varenicline, branded as Champix.

And there are fewer side effects.