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‘An absolute disgrace’ — protestors march against reversal of smoke-free legislation

21 December, 2023

Interview by Sofia Roger-Williams and Kate Walker, adapted by Mahdhi Osman-Penrice

95bFM spoke to protestors who marched from the Auckland Domain to the ACT Party’s Epsom Office last week against the government’s overturning of Aotearoa’s world-first anti-smoking legislation.

Protests were held in Auckland and Wellington last week against the new National-led coalition government’s plans to repeal legislation that aimed to create a smoke-free generation.

In 2022, the Labour government amended the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990, which would have seen those born after 1 January 2009 prohibited from ever buying tobacco products. They also planned to significantly reduce the number of retailers allowed to sell tobacco products from 6000 to 600.

But three weeks ago, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon revealed plans to scrap these amendments, as part of the coalition agreement between National, ACT, and NZ First

95bFM attended the smoke-free rally in Tāmaki Makaurau and asked protesters why they are calling on the government to stop their repeal of New Zealand’s new tobacco restrictions.

Co-organiser of the Auckland march and recently graduated medical student, Donald Mayo, told 95bFM he was motivated to organise the march after witnessing the impact smoking can have firsthand.

“I’ve seen people die; I’ve seen the light go out of people’s eyes because of heart attacks and lung cancer, all driven by cigarette use.”

Mayo says there will be an immense financial, as well as human cost, to the government’s decision. 

“They are going against their own interests in doing this; wasting $46 billion in taxpayer dollars over the next 20 years, and killing 8000 people in the next 20 years by repealing this legislation.”

A survey by the Healthcare Commission of Aotearoa and University of Otago researchers found that 67 percent of Kiwis support the new smoking laws that the government wants to abolish. 

“If the government goes through with repealing this legislation, they will have lost the trust of hundreds, if not thousands of doctors, nurses, and allied healthcare professionals, and I think they’ll be punished for that in the polls,” says Mayo.

95bFM also spoke to the co-founder of the volunteer-run organisation, Vapefree Kids NZ, Marnie Wilton, who attended the rally with her children.

Wilton condemned the government’s decision, accusing them of putting profit before public health.

“We are absolutely outraged by the government's move to repeal smoke-free; we shouldn’t be putting tobacco company profits ahead of our kid’s health”.

Māori and Pasifika have higher smoking rates and consequently, are more likely to have negative health outcomes from smoking than non-Māori and Pacific populations. 

One protestor told 95bFM that they support smoking restrictions because they benefit communities that experience higher rates of death and tobacco-related illness. 

“I'm out here so the government can reconsider the repealing of the smoke-free legislation. It's terrible; it will just kill more people that don’t need to die.”

Founder of BBM Motivation, and retired professional boxer, David Letele, also told 95bFM that the coalition government is neglecting efforts to lower the number of smokers. 

“This is an absolute disgrace and strikes at the heart of everything we do in our communities to help people live healthier lifestyles.”

Mayo encourages people to write to their local MP’s, as well as Health Minister Shane Reti, and Associate Health Minister Casey Costello, if they oppose the government’s health policies. 

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Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air