15 Apr 2021

'Bold move' - Māori health leader welcomes smokefree plans

From Checkpoint, 6:15 pm on 15 April 2021

In a plan to stub out smoking by 2025, the government is looking at completely banning the next generation of adults from smoking with a staged phase out, and potentially restricting cigarette sales to pharmacies.

Māori health advocacy group Hāpai te Hauora kaiwhakahaere Selah Hart says it is a world-leading approach, but the government must be mindful of getting the community alongside.

"With an in depth consultation process over the next six weeks, hearing the voices of those most impacted – Māori and Pacific – will help us to guide and shape this thing so it doesn't further perpetuate the harm they're already experiencing because of the addiction to tobacco.

"Māori need to be in the decision-making seats at the legislative or policy level because what we can see is there's a heap of potential for investment.  

"But actually how are we building a bit of a dam upstream? What that looks like is tackling the tobacco industry and the tactics they have.

"At the end of the day they're selling a product that kills people. It kills approximately 4,500 – that's the whole township of Putāruru in the Waikato – every single year.

"If we frame it in that sense, why are we allowing this thing to still happen?

"So we need Māori leadership, governance and decision-making and all of those things upstream. We also need to heavily invest in an equitable ratio of funding at the other end to support those who are addicted.

"And throughout that whole process we need to understand and unpack all of the impacts of poverty, homelessness and all of the things that drive our people to continue to be addicted to tobacco.

"We can see there's an absolute saturation in our low socio-economic communities of liquor outlets. fast food outlets, tobacco retailers. So what they've done is they've cleverly placed the products where they know they'll make some revenue."

One of the proposals involves selling tobacco products in pharmacies only. Hart says she is not sure that is the right approach.

"I know it would be really great from a quitting support service mechanism, but I don't know whether that is the right place.

"What we might have to explore is making R18 specialist stores such as a tobacconist. That might be harking back a few years, to creating a new shop. But if we heavily reduced the amount of retailers that exist now we're actually going to denormalise tobacco for the future generation."

The smoke-free generation idea of incrementally raising the age for buying tobacco products is a bold move, Hart said.

"Generally we might be doing really well across the stats, but we're not doing very well for Māori rangatahi.

"And we're also not doing well enough for Māori wāhine. I'm a Māori wāhine, I'm also an ex-smoker. I'm a mother and I will hopefully one day be a grandmother. So I'm absolutely behind this, because I don't want my mokopuna to experience intergenerational harm of this killer product."