'A tobacco-free Māori nation is important'

6:44 pm on 14 January 2019

Tobacco is four times more available in low-income communities compared to affluent ones, says a Māori health organisation.

Side view of a pack of cigarettes with faded filter

Photo: 123RF

Hāpai Te Hauora said increasing the tax on tobacco was good but reducing where it was sold would be more beneficial to Māori.

However, one researcher disputed that and said the best thing for Māori was to scrap the tax hike altogether.

Hapai Te Hauora spokesperson Mihi Blair said there was a stark difference in how much tobacco was available in different parts of Auckland.

"If you go down Kelston, which is another low-income area, around one school there are five dairies selling tobacco and a couple of liquor stores selling that.

"Compared to if you go to Remuera, you will notice that there is one dairy on Remuera Rd, and two liquor stores on there, and only one of them actually sells tobacco."

Ms Blair said their research showed tobacco was four times more available in the most deprived areas compared to elsewhere, which disproportionately impacted Māori communities.

Former politician Tariana Turia agreed and said it was a form of racism.

"All of the fast food places, all of these issues, they push them out there into these low income communities.

"They deliberately target them because they are far more likely to engage in this negative behaviour and spending."

Ms Blair is calling for a reduction in the prevalence of cigarettes and is urging tobacco retailers to take action.

"It's quite disappointing to see dairies, who are part of the community, not recognising that what they are selling in their own communities is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of their people.

"We need to actually ask the dairy community to rethink about what they can sell in the meantime, or start phasing out tobacco."

But for Mrs Turia, the buck stopped elsewhere.

"It's no doubt that they're just there to make money - that's what drives them. It's the councils that need to start determining where these places should go.

"They are the ones who give the agreement for these places to be established and they need to think about why they put them into those communities."

Mrs Turia championed the increasing tobacco tax, the most recent of which came into effect on 1 January, pushing a pack of cigarettes up to about $30.

Adult smoking rates have dropped by 2.5 percent since the policy was introduced in 2010.

The Māori rate dropped too but was still 2.6 times higher than the rate of non-Māori.

Independent researcher Dr Marewa Glover said access and availability were not the main problems.

"That's distracting from the big issue, which is how much tobacco tax Māori are paying disproportionately, and that is harming our communities financially."

Dr Glover, the director of the Centre of Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty and Smoking, wants to scrap tobacco tax hikes.

"That financial stress is preventing them from buying healthier food, it's preventing them from [paying] their bills...all of that stress drives smoking."

University of Auckland head of Māori health Dr Papaarangi Reid said there needed to be a balance between reducing smoking and causing further harm.

But she does want to see fewer places selling tobacco.

"A tobacco-free Māori nation is important for Māori sovereignty and Māori development.

"Reducing whānau and community access to tobacco products is an important part of achieving that vision."

Ministry of Health statistics show 35 percent of Māori adults smoke compared to 14 percent for non- Māori.

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