A controversial, headline-grabbing deal by the coalition government to repeal the Smokefree legislation passed in 2022 will be ‘devastating’ not just for Hawke’s Bay but for New Zealand say health advocates.

Former smokefree programme manager Johanna Wilson at the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board told BayBuzz she was passionate about a Smokefree Aotearoa. Wilson was the smokefree programme manager from 2014 to 2020.

“For the first 17 years of my life, I was a passive smoker. I would be seen by our family doctor three to four times per year and received treatment for ‘bronchitis’,” she said.

“This was the result of both parents, each smoking up to three packets of cigarettes per day inside and outside the family home. I was one of six children living in this house.

“Mum died of lung cancer aged 54 years. Dad died in his early 70s due to lung cancer.”

She said while she never smoked, circumstances made her a passive smoker, it’s the reason why she will continue to be a smokefree advocate for life.

“I advocate and speak-up for my mum and dad. They wanted to be around for their mokopuna (grandchildren) and never got the opportunity due to the addictive nature of tobacco products.” 

She said the repeal of Smokefree laws would impact on: Māori, result in an increase in poverty, a hike in tobacco products price, increase in visual presence of smokers, increase in crime (particularly dairies), increase in rubbish, increase in tobacco related illnesses and death, increase in uptake of smoking tobacco products by young people.

“Hawke’s Bay have made significant steps to helping people become Smokefree over the last ten years by involving hauora and health services to work together to help people become smokefree,” she said.

She said Te Haa Matea was a Smokefree Coalition group made up of Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga, Te Kupenga, Choices Kahungunu Health and Whatu Ora. Te Haa Matea team are all registered stop smoking practitioners. “The first of the kind in NZ.”

“I’m afraid for our people, our whanau, our children, and our babies. Smoking in cars and homes will be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of us all. I’m afraid the repeal of Smokefree laws will open the doors to smoking in cars and homes.”

She urged the coalition government to listen to the health and wellbeing experts. “Take the time to listen before making radical decisions.”

Ngāti Kahungunu chairman and former Hawke’s Bay DHB member Bayden Barber said the law would have made “major gains for our people, saving a whole generation from ever experiencing smoking”.

“Repealing the law will mean that smokes will be available in 6,000 stores rather than 600 specialty stores. This will likely see more of our younger people have access to cigarettes. Smoking has been a scourge to Māori over many generations.”

He said the numbers nationally spoke for themselves, and doubted Hawke’s Bay’s stats would be any different. The most recent smoking rates for Māori adults were 19.9% (down from 39% in 2006/07 and 28.6% in 2019/20).

“This shows there have been major improvements in reducing smoking. Repealing the smokefree law will be devastating for Māori.”

He said Māori were 3.4 times more likely than non-Māori to be daily smokers (adjusted for age and gender). They were 2.9 times more likely than non-Māori to be current smokers (adjusted for age and gender). Māori women were 3.1 times more likely to be current smokers compared to non-Māori women (adjusted for age).

Barber said Ngāti Kahungunu will be acting against the repeal with a hui-ā-iwi on December 16 to discuss what actions will be taken.

He said there would also be also a hui-ā-motu hosted by Kīngi Tūheitia on January 20th. “It’s a three-year marathon not a sprint and will take multiple levels of action from politicians to iwi leaders to clinicians etc.”

Health practitioners, providers, organisations, unions, and research groups agreed.

Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA), with 104 allies in health, education, social services organisations, and unions, said the government’s plan to abolish the Smokefree law was “immoral and undemocratic”.

HCA is leading a campaign to save New Zealand’s world-leading Smokefree law from repeal.

Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition to stop the repeal, which will be handed over to Parliament on December 12.

The petition states: “Currently, 5,000 New Zealanders die from the harms of tobacco-related illnesses every year. If we repeal the Smokefree Act, loved ones will die, all so tobacco companies can continue to profit.

“In 2022 we introduced world-leading legislation to support the goal for Aotearoa to be smokefree by 2025 … Māori, Pacific and low socio-economic neighbourhoods are saturated with tobacco sale points and have the highest smoking rates.

“We simply cannot afford to go backwards, while our whānau continue to die at the hands of this product. The government of 2023 will walk away with the literal blood of its constituents on its hands.”

Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air


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  1. One of the most stupid ideas from this Government (among a number of other stupid ideas) – hopefully we’re looking at a one-term government – my vote will definitely not be for National or ACT or NZ First next election – they may have some good ideas and indulge in much needed change – but their wildly ridiculous ideas on Maori language, smoking, and road speed levels -amongst others – mean they have gone way beyond any reason for me personally to support them. Sadly I had hoped they would be a rational “fix it” government but they’re turning into a more radical right wing operation that would leave Trump highly jealous!

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