29 Nov 2023

Retired doctor calls for Health Minister to resign over smokefree changes

From Checkpoint, 5:19 pm on 29 November 2023

A recently retired intensive care specialist is calling for Health Minister Shane Reti's resignation over the government's backtrack on smokefree legislation.

The National-led government wants to revamp  the legislation, which would have reduced the number of stores able to sell cigarettes to around 600 nationwide.

It would have also limited the strength of nicotine, and made it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone born after 2009. 

But Dr Stephen Streat, who was also the clinical director of Organ Donation New Zealand for more than a decade, said he saw patients have limbs amputated and suffer heart attacks, stroke, lung disease and pneumonia- all from their exposure to smoking.

And he was not the only one furious about the law change. 

Reece Jones' father and grandfather died from smoking-related illnesses, and he did not mince his words when talking about the government's plans.  

"I think it's b......t, absolute b.......t. It's just an absolute joke, and it makes a mockery of it all. And it upsets people who have suffered through family losses with cigarettes and the pain it causes."  

Jones was a smoker himself, a habit he said he picked up from his family. 

He quit after his father died from a smoking related illness in 2009.

Jones recently moved back to New Zealand with his two children, who, under Labour's legislation would never have been able to purchase cigarettes. 

"That legislation coming through was an attractive prospect for returning expats like myself to raise children in the country. Now they've gone and switched it, you start thinking, well is the leadership of this country thinking forward or are they thinking backward?" 

Shane Reti

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

He urged Dr Reti to rethink the decision. 

"I think Shane Reti needs to look himself in the mirror and really think hard about this, and the pain that he's going to cause." 

However, speaking on Checkpoint on Tuesday, Dr Reti was resolute in defending the policy. 

"So we're committed to reducing smoking rates in New Zealand, but there are concerns about the proposed legislation and to how that would impact on the black market, and how that might focus crime on some of the retail premises that were going to be allowed to continue." 

'There's no evidence' to support government move 

Dr Streat contacted Checkpoint after that interview to say Dr Reti's reasons did not stack up.  

"There's no evidence about it, there's what Shane Reti calls 'concern' and 'reckons' but concerns and reckons don't constitute evidence." 

He had seen first hand some of the damage smoking could do. 

"I certainly saw people in whom it was quite clear that smoking had contributed to loss of limb from peripheral gangrene, heart attacks, stroke, chronic lung disease which meant that they were pre-disposed to develop pneumonia."

It was disappointing that Reti was defending the policy as a medical professional himself, Dr Streat said. 

"It's shameful behaviour, he's a disgrace to the profession, he has no right to be the minister of health, he should resign," he said. 

However, Dr Reti told Checkpoint he was pleased with the progress already made on smoking rates, and he remained committed to reducing them further.