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SocietyJanuary 8, 2020

We all scream for sun cream: So why is sunscreen so expensive in New Zealand?

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We’ve got a burning issue in New Zealand. Kiwis are being short-changed when it comes to preventing skin cancer – by supermarkets and the government, argues Julian Light.

We’ve all learnt the hard way when we don’t use sunscreen. Burnt, blistering skin can be embarrassing and painful. But it’s also downright dangerous.

Around 80,000 Kiwis will end 2020 with some form of skin cancer they didn’t have a year ago. That’s a city the size of Palmerston North diagnosed with skin cancer. Every year.

It’s time the government did more to address this burning issue.

We all know the classic call to ‘slip, slop, slap’. It’s embedded in our summer culture. But is it enough? And what if slopping on sunscreen is simply too costly for families?

Our fair skin, low ozone levels and love of outdoors combine in a perfect storm that makes us Kiwis more susceptible to melanoma. According to the Cancer Society, skin cancer costs our health system around $57 million a year. And that’s an outdated number. It’s likely much higher.

Yet prevention continues to be a low priority. The government only spends a paltry $600,000 on prevention. This is largely on the Health Promotion Agency’s SunSmart ‘slip slop slap’ advertising campaign, and includes staff costs.

That’s 12 cents for every New Zealander. To fight one of our biggest killers.

Human suffering aside, that means a skin-blistering 95% more money is spent on dealing with skin cancer than on preventing it in the first place.

Is this enough for a country that literally bakes itself every summer?

Compare this to the eye-watering $1.4 billion spent on road safety. This is despite more Kiwis dying of skin cancer than on our roads. In 2015, 535 New Zealanders died from skin cancer – that’s an average of 10 people a week.

The number one thing people can do to prevent skin cancer is slop on sunblock. But even that can be out of reach for many New Zealanders as sunscreen can be really expensive here. But cast an eye across the Ditch and sunblock is drastically cheaper.

We compared the price of standard sunscreen here and over in Australia to see if New Zealand consumers are getting a fair squirt. (See the table at the end of this story for the full results).

First, the cheapest sunscreen at Aussie Woolworths is A$2.75. The cheapest at NZ Countdown (also owned by Woolworths) was a kids roll-on sunblock at $9, and that was on special. (In case you’re wondering, right now the Australian and New Zealand dollars are worth almost exactly the same).

But it gets worse. We inspected homebrand (non-fancy) sunscreen and found that Kiwis pay substantially more. Coles Ultra Sunscreen 200ml is priced at A$5 whereas a Cancer Society Sunscreen Lotion 200ml sets Kiwis back $16.

The best buy from Aussie Woolworths is a homebrand Woolworths Sunscreen – 1 litre for A$9. For NZ$10 here, we get a 100ml Cancer Society Sunblock Lotion. That means we get one-tenth of the sunscreen for the same price that Australians pay.

Is this fair?

One might argue that asking struggling families to fork out nearly $20 for sunscreen so their kids can enjoy the summer months without fear of developing skin cancer is a bit of a slip, slop, slap in the face.

Why are New Zealanders being gouged for a product that literally saves lives?

Skin cancer is one of our most prevalent cancers, but it’s also one of the most preventable. We need people to use sunscreen, so, you know, they don’t get cancer. There seems to be a massive disconnect between the cost of skin cancer, efforts to prevent it and the cost to the everyday consumer.

It’s time the government stepped up its efforts to fight skin cancer.

One solution is to make sunscreen free. It’s already been done overseas. In places like New York, Boston and Miami, beachgoers can cover up with sunscreen for free.

Alternatively, a government subsidy on sunscreen would go a long way to removing the cost barrier. It would mean families would be better protected, thereby bringing down the rates of skin cancer. It would save taxpayer dollars, which could then be targeted into cancer research.

Too many Kiwis are dying of skin cancer. The price of sunscreen is too high.

It’s time to Save our Skin. A petition has been started calling on the government to do more to prevent skin cancer.

The cost of doing nothing is much, much higher.

Cost comparison – Australian vs New Zealand supermarkets

(All products are SPF 50+)

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