20 Oct 2016

Quit Group to hand over millions

5:57 pm on 20 October 2016

A charity holding onto millions of dollars in funds nearly a year after it stopped operating will put the money towards making New Zealand smoke-free.

no smoking sign

The Quit Group has been criticised for holding onto its reserves for several months after it stopped operating. Photo: 123RF

The Quit Group Trust's funding ran out at the end of last year after the government took over its Quitline service.

It has stopped offering smoking cessation services but still has $3 million in reserves.

The Ministry of Health called in lawyers for advice and has since reached an agreement with the Trust on using the money to support the government's goal to make New Zealand smoke-free by 2025.

The Quit Group Trust said it was committed to distribute reserves towards the Smokefree Aotearoa goal before any discussion was had with the Ministry of Health. 

It said as a charitable trust, the Quit Group Trust was bound by its trust deed, which meant the Trust was legally obliged to use its funds to support smoking cessation.

Charities analyst Michael Gousmett has criticised the trust for keeping the money in reserves for several months, instead of putting it back into the public health system.

Trust chairman Chris Cunningham did not reply to questions from RNZ today, saying he is out of the country.

But in a statement, the trust defended its actions, saying it had built up the reserves over more than 16 years of operations through research, clinical trials, providing services and training.

"The Ministry of Health has confirmed that the trust's reserves belong to the trust and that the ministry will continue to work with the trust as it identifies the projects it will support," the statement said.

"In late 2015 the Quit Group undertook a consultation with the tobacco control sector and is currently working on funding a set of projects consistent with the trust's object of supporting smoking cessation in [New Zealand]. The trust expects to identify and fund projects before the end of 2016."

The Ministry of Health said it may audit the Quit Group Trust if they cannot agree on how the trust's surplus funds will be used.

Ministry spokesperson Grant Pollard said that any Ministry funding remaining with the Quit Group Trust must be used for the purpose of supporting the 2025 Smokefree goal.

He said the specifics of how the funds would be used have yet to be decided and is still being worked through.

"The Ministry still has the option of auditing the Trust if an agreement can't be reached on how the funds will be utilised."

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