Regional | Māori

Smoking exhibition lands at Whangārei

“We’re breaking up with tobacco today.”

A unique travelling art exhibition, run in collaboration with Hāpai Te Hauora and lead artists, aims to prompt conversations on the role of tobacco in Aotearoa and the impact it has had on whānau, hāpu, iwi and hāpori.

Auahi Tūroa organisers hope to create a space that shares the voices of the community through art.

Hāpai Te Hauora chief operations officer Jason Alexander says the exhibition is a eulogy for tobacco.

“We’re breaking up with tobacco today.”

Well-known artist and creator Graham Tipene says this is his way to contribute to making New Zealand tobacco-free.

“So that children and grandchildren can continue to live unaffected, wherever they are. That’s the point of this work.”

The travelling exhibition began on May 1 and will end in early June. It’s a way to bring local artists affected by tobacco and rangatahi together through the art medium.

Shane Hansen says his art speaks on this as a response to the repeal of the Smokefree campaign established by the last government.

“This piece, called Tihei Mauriora, is the breath of life, the sneeze of life. Smoking takes that from us. Five thousand people per year die from smoking-related illnesses.”

Tipene says his mother was one of those people affected by the harm of tobacco, which is the driving passion behind his pieces showcased now.

“It’s been 10 years since my mother died from cancer. I want to support this cause, so it improves our health.”

Although the percentage of regular smokers has decreased in recent years, the percentage of young people vaping daily has more than tripled between 2014 and 2023, according to an ASH (Action for Smokefree) Year 10 Survey.

Politician Huhana Lyndon says her main concern for Te Tai Tokerau is the number of vape and smoke shop workers who are not helping by allowing underage consumers to buy tobacco from their shops.

“In the North, there are 250 cigarette shops and vape shops in the region.

“My concern is that there are few employees who visit the stores outside the area. This is another problem for the Ministry of Health.

Where are the workers to examine these stores? These shops are selling to our grandchildren.”

The artists hope the exhibition will be a stepping stone for families in Māori communities to have the conversation over their smoke-free journey.

Tipene says the exhibition is not the artists demanding people to quit but a way to open those doors.

“This cause is not going against our people but a programme that invites the nation to ‘come and see what’s going on’. From the seeds that grow, let’s all talk together.”

The art exhibition will be travelling to other parts of Aotearoa, before having a final showcase in Tāmaki Makaurau. It’s free for all whānau to attend and there is assistance available for anyone looking to begin their smoke-free journey.