‘Step backward for everyone’s health’ — advocate criticises government repealing smoke-free laws
1 December, 2023
Interview by Rosetta Stone and Nicholas Lindstrom, adapted by Sofia Roger Williams
Despite the government saying they are committed to lowering smoking rates, Hapai Te Hauora, Māori Public Health, National Tobacco Advocacy Lead, Leitu Tufuga, says the new government is making it more difficult for people to quit.
The National-led coalition government has pledged to repeal New Zealand’s world-first tobacco legislation that would have created a smoke-free generation.
In 2022, the Labour government proposed an amendment to the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990, which would restrict the sale of smoked tobacco products from 6000 to 600 approved retailers and prohibit sales to those born after 1 January 2009.
Recent modelling determined the law changes would have saved the New Zealand healthcare system $1.3 billion over 20 years.
But the government has instead opted to use tobacco products, in part it admits, to help fund promised tax cuts. These tax cuts include more than one billion dollars over four years for landlords, according to the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has also cited concerns that tougher tobacco laws could popularise a black market for cigarettes.
Minister of Health, Dr. Shane Reti, told 95bFM’s The Wire that the government plans to encourage vaping as a smoking cessation tool.
“At the end of the day, we remain committed to reducing smoking rates in New Zealand.”
“The experts are telling us that vaping has had a significant impact on the adult smoking data in New Zealand and overseas.”
But Hapai Te Hauora, Māori Public Health, National Tobacco Advocacy Lead, and Co-Chair of the Smokefree Expert Advisory Group for Health Coalition Aotearoa, Leitu Tufuga, told The Wire that scrapping smoke-free laws is a “step backwards for everyone’s health”.
“New Zealand has been leading the world around smoke-free laws. This was really instrumental.”
Tufuga believes the coalition government removing these laws is about “pushing profit over people”.
She argues New Zealanders will find it harder to quit smoking as a result of the government’s decision.
“Some people talk about, ‘Oh, it’s a personal choice.’ Well, it’s not a personal choice for those who are trying to quit. It’s not a choice when our environment is not set up for them to win.”
“If this goes ahead, we will have places selling tobacco at every dairy, every petrol station, every supermarket. Tobacco will be readily available.”
Although Tufuga says increasing the accessibility of tobacco will impact all New Zealanders’ health, she highlights that it will disproportionately affect Māori and Pacific communities.
The 2021/22 New Zealand Health Survey found that 19.9% of Māori and 18.2% of Pasifika smoke daily, compared to 7.3% of Pakeha and other groups.
“Our systems are not set up to support the aspirations of many of our Māori whānau, our Pacific kainga, our hapū māmā; who have begged for this legislation and made many submissions to the Health Select Committee, says Tufuga.”
“This legislation would have made a massive dent in ensuring that these populations — the most vulnerable, will be able to reach the goal to be smoke-free by 2025.”
Health Coalition Aotearoa wants to see the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Amendment Act 2022 be implemented in its entirety and has released a briefing to the incoming parliament calling for evidence-based policy.
“This is a really important opportunity for whānau, for anyone really, to be able to speak around the impact of repealing the smokefree legislation.”
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air