Politics | Smoke-free

Protestors take to streets against repealing of smokefree legislation

A petition, signed by 45,000 people has been presented to Parliament by Smokefree campaigners who say the government’s proposed rollback of anti-smoking legislation is putting profit before people.

Hāpai Te Hauora interim chief executive Jason Alexanders said that while the government had indicated it supported achieving smokefree status in Aotearoa by 2025, its actions said otherwise.

The coalition agreement, signed by National, ACT and NZ First will see the government repeal the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act, which among other things aimed to reduce the number of retailers selling tobacco products, reduce nicotine levels in tobacco products and prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after January 1, 2009.

“Rejecting implementation of all three measures of this legislation vastly impacts the health of all communities, particularly Māori and Pacific,” Alexander said.

Speaking to Te Ao News, Health Minister Shane Reti reaffirmed the government’s commitment to a smokefree Aotearoa.

“We are committed to reducing smoking rates. Encouraged by the vaping data that came on Monday showing a decrease and encouraged to reducing adult smoking rates, we are totally committed to reducing adult smoking rates.”

Labour associate health spokesperson Peeni Henare, however, was critical of the government’s direction and concerned about what impact the rollback would have on tamariki, while questioning the government’s motivation.

“We’ve got to chase the money, we’ve got to have a look at who the lobbyists are who are using this government to get their way. Using the current deputy prime minister who looks like he is running the country at the moment, and telling our people that it is ok to increase smoking outlets, so let’s chase the money and see what’s really going on here.

“And I think it will be quite clear, this will be a tax grab at the expense of our people.”

ACT Leader David Seymour last month told Newshub Nation that tobacco brought in about $1.8 billion of tax revenue every year, which the government could continue to tax.

“I think th]at’s a more realistic solution than what the previous government was headed towards.”

Finance Minister Nicola Willis has also admitted the tax from the sale of tobacco products will help fund tax cuts the National Party campaigned on.

“We have to remember that the changes to the smoke-free legislation had a significant impact on the government books - with about $1 billion there,” Willis told Newshub.

Survey says current legislation is popular

A Talbot Mills survey commissioned by Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) and University of Otago tobacco research group ASPIRE, shows 67 per cent of participants supported the measures brought in by the previous government with 44 per cent strongly ‘supporting keeping the smokefree laws.’

HCA co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn said the survey confirmed the public was right behind health groups that strongly oppose the planned repeal.

“Repealing this law is just not supported. There’s no mandate from the public. The public are not stupid, they know these laws are good for the country, the economy and will save lives.”

Some 68 per cent of respondents also supported reducing the number of outlets that could sell tobacco while a similar number backed the prohibition of those born after 2008.

Auckland community health advocate,Dave Letele said the people most at risk of the rollback were Māori, Pasifika and “basically anyone living in a poor area.”

“We are already overrun by everything bad for us, vape outlets, tobacco outlets, sugary drinks and fast food, it’s all there. But this government thinks it is a good idea to add more. We are here to fight for what is right. It’s not about left versus right, this is not about Pākehā versus Māori, it is about what is right versus what is wrong and a government governing responsibly.”

‘The math isn’t mathing!’

The petition was received by Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer on behalf of a handful of opposition MPs who met the protestors at Parliament. Former Te Tai Tokerau MP, and a member of the National Smokefree Taskforce, Hone Harawira, paid tribute to the party’s support of anti-smoking measures.

“At the end of the day it was the focusing on the investigation into the impact of tobacco on Māori that we got this journey going. We know it is going to work for everybody but it has to start somewhere.”

Hauraki-Waikato MP Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke told the crowd the message from rangatahi is simple, they want a smokefree Aotearoa.

“You can’t take Te Aka Whai Ora out and then put smoking in. You can’t take out phones and make smoking more accessible for our kids. The math isn’t mathing!”

Public Interest Journalism