Politics | Smoke-free

Medical experts appeal for select committee scrutiny of smokefree law changes

A group representing more than 9000 doctors has written to the prime minister, urging the government to change its mind on ditching smoking reform.

The government is planning to repeal the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act 2022 that was intended to take cigarettes out of most dairies, lower the nicotine levels in cigarettes, and deny sales to anyone born after 1 January, 2009.

The coalition negotiations, however, resulted in a commitment from the new government to repeal those changes, which were set to take effect in stages - with the rising age limit the last phase, coming in from 2027.

The repeal of the act is among 49 actions in the government’s 100-day plan.

The Council of Medical Colleges represents doctors from 34 specialities and has joined with the Māori Medical Practitioners Association and Health Coalition Aotearoa to make the formal request.

The groups have written to Christopher Luxon, Health Minister Dr Shane Reti, Māori Development Minister Tama Potaka and health select committee chair National MP Sam Uffindell.

Scrutiny needed

Instead of a repeal of the act, they want a bill to be sent to the select committee to give the policy the chance to be scrutinised properly.

The select committee should have the opportunity to hear from impacted communities and public health experts, CMC chairperson Dr Samantha Murton said.

“This repeal would have a significant and negative impact on the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders, both now and in the future, and will undo years of policy development including wide consultation and expert advice,” Health Coalition’s co-chairperson Professor Boyd Swinburn said.

“The roll-back of these measures was not National Party policy and was not subject to debate during the election campaign. Given the gravity of the potential health outcomes, it should be subject to public and expert scrutiny as part of normal Parliamentary process.”

It would also allow Māori communities to have their say on the repeal - which would have the greatest impact on iwi, hapū and whānau, the groups said in their media statement.

The government was committed to reducing tobacco use, but did not agree with reducing the number of retailers who could sell tobacco, Luxon told Morning Report last year.

Black market predicted

He said having fewer retailers could lead to a black market for tobacco sales.

He said the new government would “continue to make sure we’ve got good education programmes, encourage people to take up vapes as a cessation tool, and make sure that we protect vapes for under-18s”.