Politics | Dr Shane Reti

Health Minister Shane Reti defends government’s plan to scrap smokefree legislation

The new Minister of Health is defending his government’s plan to scrap smokefree legislation, saying vaping would remain the primary tool for reducing smoking rates.

The National-led government wants to repeal legislation that had previously reduced the number of stores able to sell cigarettes to around 600 nationwide and restricted the sale of tobacco to anyone born after 2009, effectively cutting off legal supply of cigarettes to a whole new generation.

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti told Checkpoint he supported the plan to scrap the law.

The new government was committed to reducing smoking rates in New Zealand, he said.

Dr Reti said the Prime Minister had already raised concerns about how the proposed legislation would have impacted on the black market and how it would focus crime on those retail outlets which were allowed to continue to sell cigarettes.

“So those are concerns that we’ve taken on board, but we’re absolutely committed to reducing smoking rates.”

Vaping main tool

Vaping had made a significant contribution to reducing adult smoking rates and it remained the main tool for a smoking rate that was slowly but surely improving, he said.

It was good that the trend was going in the right direction but they would also look at what else could be done to accelerate the number of people stopping smoking, he said.

Dr Reti denied that abolishing the proposed legislation was a U-turn given that National did not vote for it during its third reading in Parliament.

“I am pleased, as we should all be, with the adult smoking rate reduction, but we all want to do more, we’re all committed to reducing the smoking rates in New Zealand and I remain committed to that.”

He said there were submissions during the Smokefree Amendment select committee process that the black market would be impacted by the legislation.

Asked how he knew there would be an increase in ram raids as a result of the law, Dr Reti said they had listened to cigarette retailers.

Increased risks

“And their very clear indication that they are deeply concerned that they could be at risk of increased crime, with a reduction from the 6000 distributing networks down to 600 and so that has been a concern.”

When asked if National had any proof that ram raids would increase if the number of retailers selling cigarettes reduced, Dr Reti said they had concerns from those who were afraid they would be the victims of serious crimes as a result of the law.

Dr Reti repeated that he wanted to save as many lives as possible.

“We will work through the tools in the tool kit that we have to add to vaping which is our prime tool at the moment.”

Meanwhile, the move to scrap the smokefree legislation has hit the international headlines with the BBC saying health experts had strongly criticised the “shock reversal”.

The Guardian’s headline is “New Zealand scraps world-first smoking ‘generation ban’ to fund tax cuts”. The article quoted the Māori public health organisation, Hāpai te Hauora, which said the reversal would be “catastrophic for Māori communities”.

Meanwhile the Daily Mail in Australia said “New Zealand AXES its world-first smoking ban aimed at stopping children from ever taking up the habit”.

Māori Health Authority

All three parties in the coalition have agreed Te Aka Whai Ora, the Māori Health Authority, will be axed.

Dr Reti said Māori had some of the highest health needs on every health metric.

But he said the new government wanted to get rid of the Māori Health Authority.

“Because I fundamentally and we fundamentally disagree with the ideology that says Wellington knows best, let’s place half a billion dollars of Māori health provider contracts with the Māori Health Authority in Wellington.”

Decision-making should be devolved and be as close to home or as close to the hapū as possible, he said.

The decisions were made in Wellington and the funding was based there, he said, despite the fact the authority might consult with iwi about these decisions.

“I am comfortable that we will devolve decision-making and funding for Māori health as close to the home and as close to the hapū as we can.”

- Checkpoint, RNZ